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Writer Douglas Day Stewart talks about An Officer and a Gentleman the Musical on the eve of its national UK tour

Published by: Clare Brotherwood on 17th Apr 2018 | View all blogs by Clare Brotherwood

One of the highest grossing films of all time, ever since An Officer and a Gentleman hit our big screens in 1982, this multi-Oscar-winning movie has, says its creator Douglas Day Stewart, changed lives and, according to the US Navy, was the greatest thing that had ever happened to them. Now Day Stewart has written An Officer and a Gentleman the Musical, which premiered at the Curve Leicester earlier this month and is now touring the UK. At a press conference at the Edinburgh Playhouse this week, he talked about the film, the musical and how Edinburgh is playing a part in their future.

Before he arrived at the press conference at the Edinburgh Playhouse, Douglas Day Stewart had been in his hotel room, finishing the final touches to the screenplay for a sequel to his original film of An Officer and a Gentleman. “It’s a bit of a secret,” he added. “I’ve been working on it for three years and I’ll be taking it to Warner Brothers in the next couple of weeks.”

At 78, Day Stewart shows no sign of letting up. He is as enthusiastic about An Officer and a Gentleman now as he was when he first wrote it back in the Eighties and it won three Oscars - for Best Supporting Actor (Louis Gossett Jr), Best Music and Best Original Song (Up Where We Belong, which also won a BAFTA).

“I’ve seen it about 100 times. I like it,” he laughed. “Once I start I can’t stop watching it.”

An Officer and a Gentleman tells the story of Zack Mayo who is training to become a US Navy pilot, has a tough time from his drill sergeant and falls in love with a local girl, and Day Stewart based the story on his own experiences in the US Navy. “I was an artist, an actor, and one day I was visiting my parents’ house still in make-up where I met an officer who told me we were about to go to war, though people didn’t really know anything about it yet. He said I could join the Army where I’d probably die on some muddy battlefield or join the Navy and live through the whole thing. I wanted to live so I went to Newport Rhode Island (Naval War College) for 12 weeks.”

Day Stewart went on to base ‘the officer and a gentleman’ on himself, though he ‘roughed him up a bit’ to make him more interesting. “I was in the military for three-and-a-half years and there is something about it you never get out of your blood. It’s a very unique experience and it made me a stronger person. Hollywood people are pretty tough but not as tough as a drill sergeant. That school was the toughest thing anyone could imagine and that’s what I tried to portray in the film.”

In order to keep it authentic, Day Stewart insisted on being one of the producers so he could ‘protect it all the way’. He hired military experts and had a big say in the casting.

John Travolta had starred in Day Stewart’s ‘highest rated TV film at the time’, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, so he was first choice, but when he chose not to do it the part went to Richard. “He is a consummate professional,” Day Stewart explained. “His Buddhist beliefs are very real. He does a lot for a lot of people. He is genuine, a real human being. For the film he taught himself to do the real martial arts. Everything he does he does with that dedication.

“Louis (the first African American to win an Oscar) is another man, like Richard Gere, who believes in things other than his own fame.”

But we are here to talk about An Officer and a Gentleman the Musical, and Day Stewart says he’s excited and thrilled about it.

“It’s pleasing to me to see this story which is so personal being reincarnated. It’s not hard to maintain an enthusiasm for it. So many people’s lives have been touched by it. Time Magazine said we took the negativity of the military out of the Vietnam War and I am proud of this.

“It’s an experience. It’s not like anything you have seen. It’s not like any other kind of musical. It’s so uplifting and emotionally powerful. It will make people fall in love again and retake their vows. It is as much for young people as their parents. It’s a story the young generation needs.

“It’s not quite as raw as the movie. It is respectful that you are watching live entertainers, but we still maintain the raw edge of excitement, sensuality and action. It’s a roller coaster ride.”

As well as including the hit song from the film Up Where We Belong, it also features Eighties classics such as Don’t Cry Out Loud, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Toy Soldiers and Material Girl.

The musical is directed by Nikolai Foster, artistic director at the Curve, who recently directed the West End productions of Annie and Calamity Jane and is, says Day Stewart, ‘going to emerge as one of the UK’s artistic lights’.

“He moves at the speed of light. Every scene moves into the next with such fluidity.”

He also has praise for choreographer Kate Price, ‘another great bright light in the UK’. “She’s fresh and she has a certain style which makes it fun, but the routines feel integral.”

An Officer and a Gentleman the Musical will be touring the UK until September. Meanwhile, Day Stewart, whose past credits include the ground-breaking 1980 film Blue Lagoon starring Brooke Shields, is enthusing about the sequel to the film.

“It’s a trailblazer. It’s about female empowerment. I’ve taken the daughter of Zack who wants to be a jet pilot, but who knows her dark secrets? And there’s also a gay love story in there.”

Future projects include ‘other deeply personal stuff’. “It seems the only way you can succeed in the film industry today is to get a comic book character, but stay with what you know. Don’t try to tailor yourself for the market,” he said.

An Officer and a Gentleman the Musical is at the Edinburgh Playhouse from July 2-7 www.atgtickets.com/edinburgh  0844 871 3014

Until April 21: Curve Leicester

April 24-28: Leeds Grand Theatre

May 1-5: Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

May 7-12: Wycombe Swan

May 15-19: Birmingham Hippodrome

May 21-26: Liverpool Empire

May 28-June 2: Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin

June 4-9: Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

June 18-23: Theatre Royal Newcastle

June 25-30: Wales Millennium Centre

July 9-14: Milton Keynes Theatre

July 23-28: Theatre Royal, Nottingham

July 30-Aug 4: Bristol Hippodrome

Aug 6-11: the Marlow Theatre, Canterbury

Aug 13-18: Manchester Opera House

Aug 20-25: Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Aug 27- Sept 1: Regent Theatre, Ipswich

Sept 3-8: The Alhambra Theatre, Bradford

Sept 10-15: Glasgow King’s Theatre

 

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