It is always a pleasure to find a show that confounds expectations and this is indeed true of Tim Rice’s epic new musical From Here to Eternity (Shaftesbury Theatre) which I initially feared would be bad but turns out to be first rate.
The place is Pearl harbour, the year is 1941, where the girls sing ‘don’ cha like Hawaii, the men of G Company sing the blues, and where even on an army base love and desire are never very far away. When the troubled ex-boxer and miner’s son Private Prewitt for the kind-hearted escort club girl Lorene, and when his platoon sergeant embarks on a dangerous affair with his commanding officer’s wife, Karen, the lives of both men are set on a course they cannot control. As war approaches, the worlds of the four lovers and the soldiers of G Company are dramatically ripped apart.
The creative team of composer Stuart Brayson, lyricist and co-producer Tim Rice and director Tamara Harvey have wisely decided to go back to the original novel by James Jones rather than try to recreate on stage the original 1953 Academy Award-winning film in which Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster roll on the beach in the surging surf, to produce something altogether grittier and more candid and they have succeeded admirably. Indeed there is no trace of sentimentality here and Javier de Frutos inventive choreography turns military drill into muscular dance routines.
But perhaps the biggest surprise is new British composer Stuart Brayson’s excellent, tuneful score (aided by Tim Rice’s deft lyrics) which is imbued with the energy and spirit of the blues of the 1930s and 40s, as well as rock ’n’ roll, not to mention the influence of Hawaiian and military music. In fact it is the melody that holds the whole show together, providing the unifying factor, underscoring every dialogue scene with numbers like G Company Blues, You Got the Money, Fight the Fight, More than America and Run Along Joe making the strongest impression.
Furthermore, Soutra Gilmour’s spectacular set of the army barracks, the sleazy New Congress Club nightspot and the rolling surf of the Pacific Ocean in the background projected on large screen adds immeasurably to the realism of the piece.
Director Tamara Harvey draws exemplary performances from her strong cast, most notably Robert Lansdale as the sensitive Robert E Lee Prewitt, Siobhan Harrison as Lorene, the girl he falls for, and Darius Campbell and Rebecca Thornhill as First Sergeant Mitt Warden, and Karen Holmes respectively, the couple who embark on an illicit affair, roles played in the film by Lancaster and Kerr.
In short, this is a great wartime love story, which has been turned into a hugely entertaining musical that manages to hit all the right notes.
From Here to Eternity
Plays at The Shaftesbury Theatre
Box office: 0207 379 5399Last modified: April 7, 2021