If there is one iconic movie image from the 1980s that stands head and shoulders above all others it’s Richard Gere, seductively handsome in Navy dress whites, sweeping the girl of his dreams off her feet in An Officer and a Gentleman. That one moment so defined an era that it has been replicated, parodied and become the stuff of dreams and desires for millions of women around the world. Ultimate romantic moment? That’s it. End of.
So Jonny Fines has big shoes to fill as the anti-hero, Zack Mayo, in the all-new An Officer and a Gentleman – The Musical which is currently touring the UK. Fines has a few shows under his belt but this jukebox musical gives him his first lead and it has been hard work. He has had to put in serious hours in the gym to exhibit an impressive muscular physique, for when he’s required to strip off on stage, and the entire male cast has been drilled to exhaustion for their precision marching scenes.
If you haven’t seen An Officer and a Gentleman the movie, it’s about a group of raw recruits who have signed up for the American Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida. But before they can graduate as navy pilots they must survive drill sergeant Emil Foley and the attention of the local girls. Nearby is a paper factory which employs the local women to make envelopes. It’s a dead-end job and most of the younger workers hope to snare a Navy officer for a dream ticket to a new life.
Fines’ Zack Mayo wants to be a Navy pilot and make something of himself while Paula Pokrifki, played by West End star Emma Williams, just wants to have a good time. But Paula’s best friend, material girl Lynette, is after a husband and she has her sights set on Zack’s friend and fellow recruit, Sid.
The Leicester Curve show is backed with some great and memorable songs from the ’80s – although, oddly, more than half the musical numbers chosen actually came out after 1982 when the film and stage show are set.
Jonny, Emma, Ian McIntosh, who plays Sid Worley, and Jessica Daley (Lynette) – none of who were born when the film was released – sat down with me before a recent performance to discuss the musical.
“I’ve got big shoes to fill!” laughs 30-year-old Jonny when I mention Gere. “I knew that iconic white suit moment from a parody in Friends before I knew the film, ” he says.
“It’s a much loved part so you know what to do to deliver the goods for an audience…wear a white suit and work out!
“One Leeds audience was raucous! There is an intimate scene and Emma and I were getting down to it when a lovely lady shouted: ‘ Go on lad!’ at the top of her voice.
“I tried to remain in the moment but I was giggling into Emma’s shoulder.
“Nikolai Foster, and our producer, Jamie Wilson, knew that this is a story that is still relevant, that it is still such a popular film, and they were right. Audiences are loving the stage show.
“Zack isn’t your standard romantic lead. He’s a real anti-hero. He doesn’t know how to treat women properly. But, by the end, he discovers who he is and what he wants.”
Award-winning musical theatre star, Emma, (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Half A Sixpence, Annie Get Your Gun, Love Story) said the show had dark, gritty themes “but is also romantic and beautiful”.
“And writer, Douglas Day Stewart, has given Paula her own arc in the stage show,” says Emma. “She’s got her own ambitions and is attempting to better herself.
“She’s quite liberated. They fight against each other. They’re both really strong characters. She’s not waiting for a man to rescue her.
“We all know that iconic moment from the film but, in context, it’s as much about she saving him as him saving her.”
Jessica (Mamma Mia!, Sound of Music) and Ian (Rock of Ages, The Commitments, Hair) are both fans of 1980s music.
“The songs in the show – from Bon Jovi, Europe, Madonna etc – don’t all further the narrative, they’re more an expression as to who these people are, ” says Jessica. “These songs are iconic but, if you listen to the lyrics, they say something about the way our characters feel.”
“The Curve’s artistic director, Nikolai Foster, who directs, and Douglas Day Stewart, who wrote the original screenplay and the book for the stage show, worked closely with us and they picked out very specific songs,” says Ian.
“You have to view the show as being typical of its time. It’s a nostalgia piece and the film has a cult following.
“Some critics have said that its themes don’t fit with today’s times. But this is very deliberately set in 1982. It’s an ’80s musical with an ’80s style. Watch it and be thankful we’re not still in that kind of situation as regards sexism, racism.
“You have to enjoy it for what it is.
“I think that this is a fantastic show, a brilliant show. It’s got a lot of great characters in it, the way it’s directed is fantastic, it’s got energy, it’s incredibly powerful and moving and there are times when audiences are sobbing their hearts out.
“If you want to be moved and have a real human experience then I’d give it a watch.
“We might not have Richard Gere but we have Jonny Fines and he has about 14 abs and he gets them out in the show!”
“Yeah, the ladies love that,” adds Jessica.
“It’s interesting to see the difference between the northern and southern audiences,” says Ian. “The south are very polite, sitting quietly, taking it all in – and, in Leeds, they went wild.”
“Jonny did about an extra 20 press-ups on stage because they kept on cheering!” laughed Jessica.
“This is a very physical show and Jonny is an incredible, all-round, talent” says Ian, seriously. “He’s a fantastic actor, brilliant to work with”.
There are themes that today’s audiences can relate to, says Jessica. She plays a working class girl who is striving for a better life.
“I relate to that. I’m from Middlesborough and I’ve had to constantly work, and my mum and dad have had to constantly work, to support me, to help me fulfil my dreams and make something of my life.
“But the show’s themes also show how far we have come as a society.”
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