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An Officer and a Gentleman Q&A

An interview with director Nikolai Foster

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With smash hits from Madonna, Bon Jovi, Cyndi Lauper, Blondie, and many more, An Officer and a Gentleman has a soundtrack you’ll want to listen to on repeat. So why don’t you? Hit that Spotify play button now!

What kind of night are people in store for when they come to see the show?

People will be surprised when they come to see An Officer and a Gentleman. Because of the film’s iconic ending, I think a lot of people associate it with being a cheesy 80s romcom. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a cheesy 80s romcom – and we offer some tasteful cheesy choices in our production – but audiences will be surprised by the depth of this story and how moving the show is. It is genuinely uplifting because we invest in the lives of these characters and care about them.

Zack Mayo (Luke Baker) lifting Paula Pokrifki (Georgia Lennon) in his arms, she is wearing his officer hat
Credit Marc Brenner

What do you feel about the story makes An Officer and a Gentleman work well as a musical?

Filled with humility and quiet profundity, it delicately charts the lives and experiences of working class people in Pensacola, Florida, in the early 80s. In some ways these appear to be ordinary and unremarkable lives but the characters created by writer Douglas Day Stewart (based on his own experiences) have remarkable stories to tell. When you throw a load of 80s pop hits into this world, it truly is uplifting and sings in the way only a musical can. The songs in our show don’t propel the narrative forward but express something of the characters’ inner lives and emotions that they are unable to speak in their everyday lives. The music heightens the emotions.

How does the story resonate today?

Delicately depicting the experiences of working class people, the story continues to resonate. At a time when we are finally starting to consider what a fairer society could look like – with particular emphasis on women’s rights, anti-racism and training opportunities available to those from disadvantaged backgrounds – this simple story from the 80s still has much to say about our society today. It is hard to appreciate the impact the giant factories and the military training facility has on every aspect of the lives of the characters Douglas imagined, following his real-life experiences training as a pilot at the famous naval air base in Pensacola.

Can you elaborate on that?

All of these characters are seeking some kind of escape, including from a factory which doesn’t allow women to move up the hierarchy.

Lynette Pomeroy (Sinead Long), Paula Pokrifki (Georgia Lennon) and factory women holding envelopes in the air
Credit Marc Brenner

In our play Casey Seeger is the first woman in history to “get jets” and Lynette believes her only escape from an abusive, alcohol-soaked home life is literally on the wings of a naval aviator. Zack is desperate to make something of his life, trying to escape the shadow of his dominating father. The son of a high-ranking naval officer, Sid simply wants to play baseball and isn’t interested in following in his father’s footsteps. And Paula attempts to study for a nursing degree alongside her work at the factory but the demands of training and holding down a full-time job to make ends meet mean the reality of this is seemingly impossible.

Sid Worley (Paul French) looks up at Zack Mayo (Luke Baker) sitting on metal stairs, both wearing grey tracksuits
Credit Marc Brenner

How does the show differ from the Australian production from 2012? Is it just the music that’s changed?

This is a completely new production, created by the incredible team at Curve. Alongside original screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart we have worked with his writing partner Sharleen Cooper Cohen and the team at Jamie Wilson Productions to take the film from screen to stage. It’s been an exhilarating ride for all of us – almost as exciting in taking off in a fighter jet! Our journey towards opening night started at Curve (where this production originated) in 2015 when we first started discussing how this iconic film might work onstage. It has been a fantastic adventure, developing the script and thrashing out the play’s structure over a series of workshops, readings, rehearsals and a short tour in 2018, with many thanks to all of the actors and stage managers who supported this process.

Can you tell is something about the staging?

In creating a physical language for our production, we were interested in the Brutalist architecture which often characterises the soulless institutions and training bases depicted in the show. We were keen to create a world which could feel like a military base, the motel, bars and other places around Pensacola but which could also serve as an allegory for a prison – incarcerating the characters both literally and also as a metaphor. We also loved the ideas of 80s neon, the iconography of Americana and the huge advertising hoardings you see next to motels and malls in the States. All of the characters in the play are trying to escape and the imposing wire mesh walls of Michael Taylor’s design support this idea in a simple and highly effective way. The film effortlessly jumps from location to location but we had to find a theatrical language to transport the audience to the different destinations. The extraordinary work of the sound, lighting, choreography, props and costume departments all support our onstage cinematic language, carrying us from scene to scene.

How did you decide which songs from the 80s to include?

It was all about if the characters were going to sing, the immediacy and rawness of existing songs from the era the play is set offered an opportunity to glimpse into these characters’ souls and hear their inner thoughts. Popular pop songs have helped to articulate the emotions of our characters.

The cast of Officer and a Gentleman in grey tracksuits holding chairs over their shoulders as they stomp
Credit Marc Brenner

Why do you think people love this story so much?

An Officer and a Gentleman is a low-key story with a closing scene that has become legendary. Actually, the famous final scene very nearly didn’t happen because Richard Gere believed the ending was too cheesy – hyperbole that contradicted the visceral grittiness of the rest of the film. In some ways he was right but it’s a moment of magical realism that celebrates the unspoken ambitions and hopes for a better future, which is something we can all relate to. Who doesn’t have moments where we’d like to escape to a better life? I think this is the central reason the film was so successful.

Why do you think the stage version is so popular?

There’s the innate juxtaposition between brutal naturalism and magical realism that has helped inform the creation of our stage version and I think audiences love the mixture of gritty true life and fantasy – simple stories, complex lives, with a touch of musical magic thrown in along the way. We have always endeavoured to treat the characters and situations with the respect and dignity they deserve and we consider it an honour to be sharing their stories with audiences today.

It sounds like very much a team effort…

It is. So many partners and collaborators have come together in order to mount this production. All of us at Curve are extremely grateful to everybody who has worked on the project, especially orchestrator George Dyer who has helped shape the production since 2015, the team at Jamie Wilson Productions, Douglas and Judy Stewart and Sharleen and Marty Cohen, our tremendous choreographer Joanna Goodwin and the ever-extraordinary team at Curve. We hope audiences enjoy meeting these extraordinary characters and that they have a moving, hugely uplifting and fun night at the theatre.

An Officer and a Gentleman
Four jet planes fly over a male dressed in white navy uniform holding a woman in a dotted red dress.

An Officer and a Gentleman

Mayflower Theatre
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