If the very idea of a musical version of the 1982 movie An Officer and a Gentleman makes you wince, actor Ben Mingay, who plays Zack Mayo, the role made famous by Richard Gere, is here to tell you to think again.
"Times have changed,'' he says. ''The stage show is going to be very raw and much more cutting-edge than the film. And although I respect Richard Gere as an actor, I am totally going to leave him in my dust."
Mingay, 32, is a former construction worker from Newcastle who fell into professional singing when a former girlfriend pointed him towards an advertisement in the newspaper for a scholarship to attend the Newcastle Conservatorium. He was accepted and discovered he possessed a powerful baritone voice. Before long, he was studying opera at the Sydney Conservatorium.
"At first, I thought opera was boring. I wanted to be a rock star," he says, and he's not joking. For years, Mingay worked on building sites by day and sang in rock bands at night. "But then, I really enjoyed opera and I want to get back into it one day, but for now, my career is in music theatre," he says.
Mingay's first professional musical was David Atkins's Hair. He next played Tommy DeVito in the award-winning Jersey Boys and originated the role of Billy Kostecki in Dirty Dancing - touring for three years before moving to New York.
Mingay was offered a role in the Broadway production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert - The Musical but union rules prevented him from taking it. That setback made him available to take the lead role in the world premiere of An Officer and a Gentleman - The Musical. "It all feels like fate," he says.
Mingay and his cast mates certainly look like they could crush Gere in a push-ups competition. The male ensemble has been hitting the gym for six months. "When we have to do a scene with our shirts off, we're all like, 'Yeah, who's the most ripped?'" Mingay says. "All the fellas are stacked. There is so much testosterone in the military scenes. I think the ladies will enjoy it."
One lady in particular, Mingay's mother, will relish it. "My mum is in love with Richard Gere, so she's very proud of me," he says.
And Mingay's brand of rock-jawed masculinity is exactly what director Simon Phillips was looking for. "When Ben walked in for the audition, he had such effortless machismo," Phillips says.
Mingay says there's a little less masculinity on show now, as a nude scene was cut during rehearsals. "I nearly got the business out," he says. "There is a scene where Zack gets out of bed after a night of passion. But we couldn't find a way to hide the microphone packs. They would stick out like dog's balls."
An Officer and a Gentleman - The Musical opens at Lyric Theatre, The Star, May 18. Tickets $70.90-$135.90. Bookings 1300 795 267.