Film is up where it belongs – on stage as a musical 

The company for An Officer And A Gentleman with Douglas Day Stewart (centre)
The company for An Officer And A Gentleman with Douglas Day Stewart (centre)
Rehearsals for Benches, a play by Roger Goldsmith, which is being performed at Rosie's Vineyard in Southsea, from April 30-May 3, 2018.-

Pull up a bench for the debut of a new play

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Following earlier successes, it was the 1982 film An Officer An a Gentleman which cemented Richard Gere's reputation as a mainstream sex symbol.

It tells the story of Zack Mayo who is in training to become a US Navy Pilot. When Zack rolls into boot camp with a bit too much of a swagger, drill Sergeant Foley doesn’t make life easy for him. When he falls for local girl Paula Pokrifki and tragedy befalls his friend and fellow candidate, Zack realises the importance of love and friendship and finds the courage to be himself and win the heart of the woman he loves.

Thirty years later, the original film's screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart adapted his work for a musical.

Earlier this month a new version of the musical opened in Leicester at the start of its first UK tour.

Douglas tells now how he drew on his own experience for the story: 'I had essentially lived the story. I was required to serve in the military during the Vietnam War era and had a choice of being a soldier or a naval officer. I went to Officer Candidate School in Newport Rhode Island in 1962.

'I had a really tough drill instructor, and I dated a girl from the factories. So in later life when I was looking for rich subject matter for writing, I wanted to revisit my time in the military.

So is the character of Zack very similar to you?

'To start with he was, but as I began writing the story I spoke to a friend of mind, a fellow writer and a guy with more life experience than me. He told me: “Nobody’s ever really dealt with the fact that the military is this melting pot for people of all background and classes,” so I decided to do something more rough edge. I took the character that was based on me and I began to rough him up. I put him on a motorcycle, I gave him tattoos and martial arts skills and that became Zack Mayo.'

And Douglas insists that they never expected the film to be the monster hit it turned out to be.

'It’s only looking back now that everyone has this misconception that the movie was coming out of this big Hollywood machine and was destined to be a hit, but that wasn’t it at all. It was a hard sell!

'I had recently done The Boy In The Plastic Bubble which was a big hit TV movie and The Blue Lagoon which had been well received so I dared to hope An Officer and a Gentleman would be the third in a string of successes, but I wasn’t sure how anyone would respond to it, particularly as it is so military focused.'

What made you want to return to An Officer and turn it into a musical production?

'I think it was always my hope to do this with the film. I’ve always loved musicals since I was a little boy and saw West Side Story with my father. I mean, who doesn’t love musical theatre? I kept thinking this was a wonderful story for musical theatre, it has elements of a real Cinderella love story. A working class love story that is so simple and uplifting, what better kind of tale to tell on stage?'

It's been a long journey to get the film to the stage – the production on the road is a revamped version from the one that debuted in Australia back in 2012. Did Douglas ever get tempted to update or change the story?

'I think this is a story very much rooted in its time and genre. It’s important to remember this is a love story set in the innocence of the early 80s. In all reality it probably couldn’t be the same story today as we live in a different time. There are a lot of issues around that we weren’t necessarily aware of in 1982.'

The original film is noted for some iconic scenes which have passed into pop culture. Have they stayed in the show?

'Yes, absolutely! It was very important to Nikolai and I throughout this whole process that the original idea be respected.

'This production is the movie but taken into a whole new dimension through music. I love the way the music takes a moment and makes it transcend anything written in prose. The emotions of the movie are really powerful but just you wait and see what happens when you add music!'

And the songs – including the Oscar-winning Up Where We Belong?

'I think it focuses everything in a time and place. Those are such great songs, and we use some really emotive and powerful songs from that era. It feels to me that this is what the story really wanted, to use songs from the era rather than original music.

'This is a simple, Cinderella love story that people have embraced for decades and I hope that now young people will enjoy discovering this great story through the musical and these great songs of the '80s are so well loved and are hits for a reason.'

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton 

May 1-5

mayflower.org.uk