REVIEW: An Officer And A Gentleman The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday ****

Love lift us up where we belong: Georgia Lennon’s Paula Pokrifki and Luke Baker’s Zack Mayo

THE conversions keep coming. Hairspray. Shrek. Elf. Priscilla Queen Of The Desert. Billy Elliot. The Lion King. Legally Blonde. Heathers. The Bodyguard. Beetlejuice. Back To The Future.

Going back to find theatre’s future has become a well-worn path, one paved with gold for producers and venues alike as the conveyor belt from screen to stage musical threatens to turn into a traffic jam.

Already this year, the Grand Opera House has played host to the divinely sassy, soulful Sister Act The Musical and Pretty Woman The Musical, a cheesy, dated reboot with workmanlike Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance songs.

Back to the USA once more for An Officer And A Gentleman The Musical, a vastly more satisfying slice of American culture, driven by George Dyer’s superb orchestrations of Eighties’ pop bangers plus James Brown’s 1966 belter It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World (or This Is A Man’s Man’s Man’s World as it is re-named here for an assertive distaff rendition by the Port Townsend paper mill factory workers).

This Curve, Leicester touring production is stamped Made In Yorkshire as much as “product of the USA”. Director Nikolai Foster is a North Yorkshireman and lead actor Luke Baker was born in Leeds; both are on terrific form here.

As the press-night audience – dominated by women – settles into the dark, the voice of President Ronald Reagan evokes the 1982 setting from the off, making way for the roar of a jet as the new intake arrives at the United States Naval Aviation Training facility at Pensacola, Florida.

“This is not Top Gun,” said Baker in his interview. Indeed so. Not once will anyone be seen in a cockpit, the only sighting of a jet being the frame picked out in lights in the backdrop to Michael Taylor’s set.

Billed as a “timeless story of love, courage and redemption to make your heart soar and leave you breathless”, this show is an emotional rollercoaster rather than a thrill ride, darker too with its depiction of fatherly rejection, a mother’s suicide, factory ennui and mental turmoil, but yes, it is still romantic.

The 1982 screenwriter, Douglas Day Stewart, combines with Sharleen Cooper Cohen for a book that finds the ideal balance between male and female perspectives: the macho muscularity shielding vulnerability on one side; the bonding amid the monotonous hours for factory workers, such as Melanie Masson’s Esther Pokrifki and Wendi Harriott’s Aunt Bunny, on the other. In particular, the admirably singular focus of officer candidate Casey Segar (Olivia Foster-Browne).

Baker’s college graduate Zack Mayo arrives on his motorbike (the one engine we do hear), determined to make it through aviation school to elite jet training. He lost his mother at 12; his heavy-drinking navy dad (Tim Rogers’ Bryon Mayo) jettisoned any responsibility, but Zack has an outsider’s steely resolve to defy the odds. He clicks instantly with Esther’s daughter Paula  Pofrifki (Georgia Lennon),  a factory worker of Polish stock, determined to shake up her life.

In a parallel storyline, admiral’s son Sid Worley (Paul French) must deal with being burdened with his family name and his father’s unhidden preference for his late brother. Enter factory worker Lynette Pomeroy (Sinead Long in early Eighties’ Madonna’s wardrobe), ruthlessly looking for a good time.

Officer training runs in tandem with learning lessons in young love, the training in the charge of Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley (the outstanding Jamal Kane Crawford), a gravel-voiced, tough taskmaster with a waspish tongue to go with his physically and mentally exhausting regime. The bright lights of TJ’s bar and neon-lit motel bedrooms offer relief from navy discipline and navel gazing.

From Taylor’s metallic,  industrial set design and Eighties’ costume designs to Joanna Goodwin’s intense, hot choreography and Foster’s exhilarating direction to superb performances by Baker, Lennon, Crawford, French, Long and Foster-Browne, An Officer And A Gentleman hits the heights.

Backed by Christopher Duffy’s band, the vocal performances relish Dyer’s revelatory arrangements, whether opening with In The Navy Now, bringing new resonance to Kids In America or mirroring Madonna in pink in Material Girl. None betters French, Lennon and Baker’s take on Family Man, not even (Love Lift Us) Up Where We Belong.

An Officer And A Gentleman The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm, 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office: