From Here to Eternity is already being described as Tim Rice’s new musical, but the lyricist is only one of two producers (along with Lee Menzies), while the music and book are by Stuart Brayson and Bill Oakes. Based on James Jones’ eponymous novel, which itself inspired a 1953 film, it tells of the trials and tribulations of the soldiers of Company G stationed on Hawaii in the run-up to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour.
It focuses on four characters who each have their own ghosts and psychological wounds. The private Prewitt finds himself unable to fight as a boxer after he blinded his friend in the ring. Karen, the wife of the Captain, is desperately searching for meaning following a hysterectomy. The dancer Lorene seeks respectability and escape, while Sergeant Warden desires Karen but refuses on principle to take the one step that would secure her for him.
The stage show proves thematically rich, resurrecting many of the novel’s issues that were absent in the film such as homosexuality. While doing so, however, is largely effective, it does introduce certain problems. Musicals do not have to be light affairs, but witnessing the most ignominious of demises for the central protagonist seems at odds with the uplifting, though admittedly bitter-sweet, finale that trots out every cliché concerning duty and valour. We are left not quite knowing what we are supposed to feel.
Similarly, while film can capture characters and emotions with close-up gestures, camera angles and relatively few lines, devoting entire songs to stamping out the stances of each individual can make the experience feel overblown. The music itself, however, is interesting enough as it explores blues, big band, swing and rock ‘n’ roll, and numbers such as ‘G Company Blues’, ‘Thirty Year Man’ and ‘I Ain’t Where I Wanna Be Blues’ generate just some of the evening’s highlights.
The main triumph, however, is the staging with Tamara Harvey’s direction, and Javier de Frutos’ trim and athletic choreography of soldiers and club girls, ensuring there is never a dull moment. The Japanese bombing, in particular, makes good use of slow motion movement and lighting effects to bring home the full terror. Full marks as well to the cast with Siubhan Harrison as Lorene, Rebecca Thornhill as Karen and Darius Campbell as Warden standing out. The highest accolades, however, go to Robert Lonsdale as Prewitt who demonstrates a fine tenor (and falsetto) voice, and Ryan Sampson who proves perfect as the cheeky, yet tragic, Private Maggio.
Booking until April 2014 at the Shaftesbury Theatre, 210 Shaftesbury Ave, London WC2H 8DP with start times of 2.30pm and 7.30pm. For tickets (£18-£93) visit the From Here to Eternity: The Musical website.
Londonist received a complimentary ticket and programme from The Corner Shop PR.