An Officer And A Gentleman…and a Yorkshireman as Zack Mayo. Meet Luke Baker at Grand Opera House, York

On duty: Georgia Lennon as Paula Pofriki and Luke Baker as Zack Mayo in An Officer And A Gentleman The Musical

YORKSHIREMAN Luke Baker, set to play the title role in An Officer And A Gentleman The Music in York next week, remembers early career advice from his father.

“Born in Leeds and brought up in Wakefield, when I was 15, I started doing shows at the Wakefield Theatre Royal summer school with director Louise Denison, who must be solely responsible for half of the West End now,” he recalls.

“I grew up playing rugby, at scrum half for Sandal, and played football and did gymnastics too. I used to go down to Thorne Park to play, and had played for various football clubs when I decided to start concentrating on acting.

“When I told my father, he said, ‘to be honest, you’ve got more chance of singing at Wembley than playing there’!”

Two years at Leeds College of Music – now Leeds Conservatoire – from 2005 to 2007 were followed by a BTech in musical theatre at ArtsEd, in London, graduating in 2100. “You can train anywhere and you will get similar training, and your ability will speak for itself, but it’s about the impact of the contacts you can make when training in London: the directors, casting directors, choreographers and agents.

“They would come and do Q&As with us, as well as work with us, and then the agents would come to the full-scale musicals that we’d do to end the year. The next day you’d be called to the head’s office and you’d be given a Post-it with the name of an agent on it.”

Luke met no fewer than ten agents. “You have to suss out if they want to work with you, if you want to work with them, and it then boils to if you think you can work with them,” he says.

He duly signed up with Belfield & Ward. “I’ve been with them ever since, so I made the right choice. People tend to change agents after five years, but I’m loyal – and maybe that’s a Yorkshire thing.”

Now 36, he is working with a fellow Yorkshireman for An Officer And A Gentleman: director Nikolai Foster, who grew up in North Yorkshire before training at the Drama Centre, London, and The Crucible, Sheffield.

Foster is artistic director of the Curve, Leicester, the producers of the February 23 to November 16 2024 tour of the musical adaptation of Taylor Hackford’s 1982 all-American film starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger.

“I’ve worked with Nikolai quite a few times,” says Luke. “I first came across him when I was graduating from ArtsEd, and he would have been among the directors who came to see one of our shows.

Off duty: Yorkshire actor Luke Baker

“I did the second UK tour with him of All The Fun Of The Fair, when we visited the Bradford Alhambra and Sheffield Lyceum, and last year I played Tony, Billy’s brother, for him in Billy Elliot in Leicester.

“It was always a dream to play that role. So many people had said to me, ‘you’ve got to play Tony, if you get the chance’ – but I was always doing something else when the role came up in the West End. It was a dream opportunity to do it with Nikolai at Leicester, one to tick off on the wish list.”

Foster has reassembled much of his Billy Elliot production team for An Officer And A Gentleman, including musical director Christopher Duffy and choreographer Joanna Goodwin (assistant director for Billy Elliot), so they were familiar with Luke’s pedigree too.

His audition process began in the customary modern fashion of submitting a tape. “I sang Bon Jovi’s Blaze Of Glory, my first song in the show, and then they call you for an in-person audition at Pineapple Dance Studios, where I did the songs and the scenes. One tape, one live audition, and I got the part,” he says.

“For some shows I’ve done ten rounds of auditions over three and a half months, and then you might not get it, but some things go like that. It’s all part of it.

“It’s different needs for different shows. Like I did ten rounds to play Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, and by then everyone left could do the role, but that show is a product that has to be signed off by the American producers and everyone has to fit with everyone in the cast in a specific way.

“I think it suits me better to be creative in a role, either creating a new part or doing a part where I can do my character background work and think ‘what can I do with this role?’.”

That applies to his casting as fearless young officer candidate Zack Mayo opposite Georgia Lennon’s fiery-spirited Paula Pofriki in Douglas Day Stewart & Sharleen Cooper Cohen’s story of love, courage and redemption.

“I’ve been lucky to be able to be creative in the role, and Nikolai is the kind of director who wants it to be your version. It’s the same show as it was when first done six years ago, but it’s never final; it’s forever growing and changing, like using different choreography.”

What can next week’s York audiences expect, aside from George Dyer’s musical arrangements of Eighties’ pop bangers by Bon Jovi, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and the film’s signature song, (Love Lift Us) Up Where We Belong. “Like the film, it’s a love story, but it’s darker than people remember. It’s not like Top Gun!” says Luke.

An Officer And A Gentleman The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, June 4 to 9, 8pm, Tuesday, 7.30pm, Wednesday to Saturday, 2.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: