A decades-long passion project has come to fruition for Malibu’s Sharleen Cooper Cohen. She has written and produced the musical “An Officer and a Gentleman” now on stage at the Fred Kavli Theater in Thousand Oaks.
Mounting a Broadway-style musical isn’t easy—this project was nearly four decades in the making. However, the longtime Malibu resident was sure that she would eventually turn the 1983 hit movie into a musical experience.
Cooper Cohen is a prolific author and producer with multiple successes. She has penned seven books and written plays including “Stormy Weather,” a musical about the legendary performer Lena Horne, starring Leslie Uggams. That production broke box office records at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2009. She also has producer credits on two Tony Award-winning Broadway shows: “Indecent” in 2017 and “An American in Paris” in 2015.
She was drawn to the 1983 movie and even had social connections to its author, Douglas Day Stewart, who received an Academy Award nomination for the script, but she didn’t want to pester her friends for an introduction. At a chance encounter in Malibu, Cooper Cohen met the screenwriter’s business partner and an introduction was made. She optioned the rights to write a musical and “Douglas and I started writing the book to the musical in 2002,” Cooper Cohen recollected. A lyricist and composer were eventually hired and the show premiered in Australia in 2012. Unfortunately, “It did not make it. We did not get great reviews,” Cooper Cohen said. The show’s tour was canceled.
“It was a heartbreaking experience, yet we knew we had a wonderful show. You need those reviews though,” the writer explained.
Cooper Cohen’s faith in the project persisted. She pitched the show to new producers but was turned down when many told her “the show just doesn’t sing.”
“I thought they were nuts,” the writer explained. “Of course it does. I’ve proved it does.”
The music was then changed to period music of the early ’80s and was refashioned into what’s otherwise known as a “juke box” musical.
“It worked,” she explained, as enough time has passed that many people are now nostalgic for songs and ballads from that period. A British producer came on board and the show was toured in the United Kingdom three years ago: “It was a gorgeous production.”
The show was then retooled again and brought to the states where it is currently on national tour.
To refresh your memory, the original movie version of “An Officer and a Gentleman” starred Richard Gere, Debra Winger and Lou Gossett Jr. in the role that earned the Malibu resident a best supporting actor Oscar. The story is about a Navy man with a bad attitude, his strict drill sergeant and an unexpected romance with a local girl.
The show opened its national tour in Las Vegas Oct. 28 where Cooper Cohen and Gossett made an appearance.
Struggling for so long on a show after so many other professional theater successes is not lost on Cooper Cohen.
“My girlfriend calls me ‘the goddess of persistence’ because I don’t give up, she said. “[I’ve had] 20 years of pushing this show—believing in it when it got turned down and had sad moments—a lot of struggle.”
The current tour takes it to more than 40 cities across the country. “An Officer and a Gentleman” the musical will be staged this weekend, Nov. 11-14, with two performances Sunday.