A US Naval officer enters a factory in full naval attire, takes his woman in his arms, kisses her and carries her off the factory floor to cheers and the uplifting strains of ‘Up Where We Belong’. Silhouetted by the light of a world full of possibilities, she takes his hat and puts it on her head.
It’s the memorable and sentimental closing scene of Taylor Hackford's 1982 film, An Officer and a Gentleman – you know, that Richard Gere flick you've caught on late-night TV. But Simon Phillips, the director of the new musical version of An Officer and a Gentleman, warns us not to be misled: this version isn’t just for the mums.
“[The story] has turned into something else in our imaginations because of that closing image,” Phillips says. “But when you go back to the film, it’s really quite gritty and rough around the edges.”
As well as being a love story, the original movie followed the character of Zack Mayo, played by Gere, through his gruelling, 13-week basic training at Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School. What particularly interested Phillips was the idea of telling the story of that military experience in a musical theatre context. And don’t expect over-the-top Village People-style camp – "steers and queers" weren’t welcome amongst Sergeant Foley’s men. Phillips says they’ve actually “stripped away material that was inserted to try to leaven [the musical]. Like, ‘It's a musical, so it will need this kind of number’ – the more confidence we get in what the essence of the story is, the less necessary those elements seem.”
As for the increasing regularity of musicals being adapted from movies – Legally Blonde and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang both open later in 2011 – Phillips is philosophical and pragmatic. While he’d love to work on an entirely new musical, he says, there are practicalities involved. “It’s increasingly difficult to attract attention to a large venture out of nowhere. The audience needs reassurance and security before they part out their dosh, and one of the ways they get that security is that they go: ‘I know that story and I have faith in it.’”
As for what’s coming up next, Time Out asks if perhaps Dances With Wolves: The Musical is on the cards. Phillips laughs. “Maybe. I’m sure your mums will be the first to know.”