Opting for pre-sold familiarity, so many musicals these days are based on popular movies. But not all of them justify the insertion of songs into the story line, serving more as filler than increased emotional impact.
Take An Officer and a Gentleman, The Musical, or rather, don’t bother to take it. Based on the 1982 Richard Gere-Debra Winger flick about the Naval Officer Candidate School jet pilot hopeful and his townie girlfriend, it plays this week at the Kravis Center’s Dreyfoos Hall as part of its Broadway series, even though the show has no chance of ever moving on to Broadway.
Much of its problem – though hardly all of it – was the decision to go the jukebox route, stuffing it with existing pop songs instead of original bespoke music and lyrics tailored to the material. Actually, the show’s creative team tried that approach a decade ago in Australia with an apparent lack of success. So they revamped the show and used musical numbers from the 1980s, touring it around this country to mostly critical and audience indifference.
The romance between stubbornly determined Navy trainee Zack Mayo (Wes Williams) and blue-collar factory worker Paula Pokrifki (Mia Massaro), now a casket polisher, remains the main event, although Zack’s doomed buddy Sid (Cameron Loyal) and his love interest, Lynette (Emily Louise Franklin), steal much of the focus in the second act. Their narrative has become more complicated –- and more interesting — by making them a black-white couple, bringing racial prejudice into the thematic mix.
The film’s screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart (aided by Sharleen Cooper Cohen) first adapted the soapy yarn to the stage, since rewritten by the production’s director, Dick Scanlan. They wisely keep the action in the Reagan era, which allows the novelty of a female trainee among the high-testosterone recruits. Amaya White is a standout as diminutive Casey, whose struggle to climb an obstacle course wall becomes an audience empathy magnet.
There is some bluster and bellow to David Wayne Britton as Marine Gunnery Sgt. Emil Foley – the role that earned Lou Gossett an Academy Award – but the character seems softened in this version and he looms less over Zack’s struggle to succeed. The problem is more with the writing than the performer, who also appears as Sid and Casey’s dads.
Several of the show’s songs should sound familiar from such original artists as Steve Winwood, Pat Benatar and Styx, but to assure that we leave the theater humming something, the musical features Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes’s Oscar-winning number, “Up Where We Belong,” at the end of each act. Williams’ Zack is blander than advisable, though he does have a forceful singing voice (even after tireless push-ups and calisthenics). He blends well with Massaro on the Cocker-Warnes tune, repurposed as a love duet, but they really need another number together in the second act to clinch their romance and get the audience swooning.
Brett Banakis’s set design is serviceable but drab, putting the emphasis on Austin Switser’s visually impressive videos. Emilio Sosa’s costumes aptly chart the trainees’ journey from a rag-tag bunch of misfits to graduating naval officers in their gleaming white dress uniforms.
Fans of the movie will find this stage version follows the expected story arc, with a few notable improvements to the plot. What they will not find, however, is any compelling reason for turning An Officer and a Gentleman into a musical.
AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, THE MUSICAL, Kravis Center Dreyfoos Hall, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Sunday, May 8. $32-$73. 561-832-7469 or visit www.kravis.org.