- review updated please see not at bottom of the review.
This is my first visit back to the Ordway since the Pandemic shut down theaters across the world. An Officer and a Gentleman is not a movie to musical adaptation that was on my radar. It is a Jukebox musical filled with classic 80’s pop songs. It follows the plot of the film but adds some twists to make the show more relevant while still keeping it set in 1981. We follow a class of Aviation Officer Candidates (AOC) from their first day through graduation. The main characters are Zack and Paula, he is a man with abandonment issues and a “me first” philosophy. She is a local girl who works in a factory while attending night school to become a paralegal. the other main couple is Zack’s roommate and fellow AOC Sid and the local girl he falls for Lynette who is looking for a naval officer to marry. It is with this couple that the musical diverges from the film by adding a twist that Sid in black and Lynette is White. It’s a nice change as it allows this secondary love story to address some real issues and also provides more diversity in the main cast.
In general the show adapted by Douglas Day Stewart from his own screenplay along with Sharleen Cooper Cohen keeps one entertained. It features some favorite 80’s songs “Never Surrender”, “owner of a Lonely Heart”, “Right Here Waiting”, “Lost In Your Eyes”, and of course the Oscar winning song from the film “Up Where We Belong”. The songs are integrated nicely into the story in most cases with one glaring exception. There is a medley of Pat Benatar songs that takes place during the AOC’s Battle games day. It seems shoehorned into the show, simply because the first song has “Battlefield” in its title. What the AOC’s are doing is well choreographed and interesting, but then on another portion of the stage there are three performers dressed in 80’s exercise outfits doing aerobics while singing the songs. The best of the songs are the quieter ones “Right Here Waiting” was a standout song by Mia Massaro as Paula and Roxy York as her mother Esther. York in particular shines here, creating what was the most emotional moment in the entire show. Emily Louise Franklin as Lynette and Cameron Loyal as Sid have a nice duet with “Lost in Your Eyes” Loyal really shows he has what it takes vocally on this song. The best voice on stage though was undoubtedly Amaya White who plays Casey Seeger, a female AOC who is trying to breakdown the barriers and become the first female AOC to graduate. Her talent is obvious every chance she gets to sing, especially on the song “Do the Walls Come Down”
Highlights of the show include the scenic design by Brett Banakis and the video design by Austin Switser. The set had multiple section that could be rotated to create different settings, most impressive was the centerpiece which rotated to show the wall that the AOC’s have to be able to climb to the top of during their physical training. The other side being used to for various other locations. The video projection was some of the best I’ve seen. It was used to both sell a change in location and also to set the mood. At times we’d see the surf rolling in on the beach at other times a giant sonar display used to help sell the montage like quality of the battle games sequence. *There was one egregious failure of the show unfortunately. The sound design was terribly miscalibrated. The Mics on the actors where turned up way to high, the Musicians were a little better, but they occasionally reached a level as well where you simply couldn’t differentiate what you were hearing it became a muddled mess. The softer songs were best, but frequently in the songs they have multiple performers all singing at once. Due to the extreme volume, it was just noise rather than song. Each voice indecipherable from the others rather than blending. Perhaps that is something they can adjust after opening night. Hopefully, because it is a very entertaining show with a lot of nostalgia going for it. The songs are great fun, but they need to find that balance so you can enjoy them.
An Officer and a Gentleman runs through Sunday at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in Downtown St. Paul for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://ordway.org/events
*after this review was published I had communication with the Ordway theater regarding the sound issue. Due to some unexpected travel delays the company was rushed in order to get the show ready to perform for opening night. I’ve been assured that the remainder of the run will play with properly calibrated sound equipment. In my opinion the Ordway has superior acoustics to every other theater in town, I wish my schedule was open so that I could experience this show as it was meant to be heard.