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BWW Review: An Officer and a Gentleman at Providence Performing Arts Center

The national tour of the jukebox musical features an excellent cast.

BWW Review: An Officer and a Gentleman at Providence Performing Arts Center

The movie An Officer and a Gentleman came out in 1982 to both critical and popular acclaim, but turning this story into a jukebox musical many years later seems like a strange choice. The cast in this touring production are across the board excellent, but some of the musical choices feel forced, and the plot seems torn between conveying the serious themes of the movie and wanting to lean into the more cheesy aspects of the 1980s. The result is a hodgepodge that suffers from an identity crisis, but is still entertaining thanks to the efforts and talents of the cast.

Zack Mayo (Wes Williams) is attending Aviation Officer Candidate School, an elite program for college graduates who will move into officer posts upon graduation. The local women in the town where this school is, primarily work at a casket factory and try to marry the future officers so that they have a way to get out of their dead-end jobs. Mayo runs afoul of his drill sergeant Foley (David Wayne Britton) and falls in love with local girl Paula Pokrifki (Mia Massaro). After tragedy strikes, Zach has to decide if he's going to get out of his own way and allow himself to try to find happiness with Paula and the career he has always wanted, or if he's going to let his chances slip away.

As Zack Mayo, Wes Williams deftly walks the line between a defiant young man who may be too smart for his own good, and a wounded young adult trying to find his way in the world alone. Williams singing chops are undeniable, and he has good and believable chemistry with his romantic and fraternal co-stars. Massaro's Paula is a hardened and no-nonsense woman who puts up a tough front, but also wants to find someone to trust. Massaro and Williams both handle these competing ideas of who they are and who they want to be with aplomb leaving the audience with no choice but to root for them. David Wayne Britton is a commanding presence as Foley, Zack's antagonist and later father figure; and Emily Louise Franklin and Cameron Loyal shine in their roles as Lynette and Sid; Paula and Zack's best friends who fall in love. Amaya White plays Casey Seeger, the lone girl in the officers' class, and manages to steal every scene she's in. White's voice is exceptional, and her character is given just enough back story to feel well-rounded without getting weighed down.

What makes this musical difficult to reckon with is the fact that it doesn't seem to know what it wants to be or who it is for. The songs are all popular hits of the 1980s, which are fun to hear, but frequently feel shoehorned into the action in a way that's jarring. For those who remember the film version of An Officer and a Gentleman, they'll know the plot is rather dense with themes of parental alienation, mental health issues and the overall intensity of the military training lifestyle. So when the musical version of this story juxtaposes real-life battle scenarios where an officer candidate has a mental breakdown next to women in neon 80s leotards dancing and singing Love is a Battlefield, it does not land well.

It's also hard to have a musical set in the 80s and leaning into that decade where most of the characters wear uniforms that don't firmly ground the action in any time period. The plot doesn't have to take place in the 80s, and military stories tend to feel suspended in time as a rule since they operate within a closed system that has its own rules.

This musical has promise, but needs to pick a lane. The cast is fantastic, and the sets and use of projection work very well to ground us in various locations despite not having that many moving parts. Unfortunately, it self-sabotages by hewing too close to the serious source material while also, and this feels strange to say about a musical, having too many songs and using some of those songs way too literally. Despite these hiccups, the cast deserve much credit for making this an enjoyable, if perplexing night of entertainment.

The North American tour of An Officer and a Gentleman plays Providence Performing Arts Center February 18-20, 2022, 220 Weybosset St, Providence, RI 02903.

Covid protocols: Guest aged 12 and over must provide an official vaccination card or negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours of the performance start time. Guests of all ages must remain masked at all times except while actively eating and drinking.

Photo: Cast of North American tour of An Officer and a Gentleman by Matthew Murphy

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