Another classic novel gets the musical theatre treatment as, after a short break and with an updated score, From Here to Eternity opens at the Charing Cross Theatre.
November 1941 and for the men of ‘G’ Company, based in Hawaii, life is pretty monotonous. Company Commander Captain Dana Holmes (Alan Turkington), in fact, the entire regiment, has one thing on their collective mind, winning the boxing tournament. To this end, First Sergeant Milt Warden (Adam Rhys-Charles) has had renowned boxer Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Jonathon Bentley) transferred into the company, so all looks good. Or does it? Beneath the surface, tensions reign. Homes has a problem with his marriage and his wife Karen (Carley Stenson) who doesn’t love him. Prewitt has gone off boxing completely and has fallen in love with the wrong person. Warden has a secret that is distracting him and the least said about Private Isaac Bloom (Jack Ofrecio), the better. Luckily, thanks to Company clown, Private Angelo Maggio (Jonny Amies) and local Madame Mrs. Kipfer (Eve Polycarp) and her girls, including the lovely Lorene (Desmonda Cathabel), the soldiers can relax a bit and cope with the boredom that is their current posting, at Schofield Barracks on the island of Oahu, not far from the navy stronghold of Pearl Harbour.
Based on James Jones’ 1951 debut novel, with lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Stuart Brayson and a book by Donald Rice and Bill Oakes, From Here to Eternity should have been an absolute knock-out show. And yet, while I enjoyed it, and loved the production, more of that later, somehow, it just didn’t reach me, and for most of last night and this morning, I couldn’t understand why. Then it hit me. There are a lot of individual stories going on and most of them are bordering on cliché. I haven’t read the source material yet, but in some ways, the story felt like a big old soap opera in uniform, a tortured hero who is victimised for his beliefs. An ambitious officer not letting anything get in the way of his career. A wife trapped in a loveless marriage seeking comfort from the wrong places. A clown that doesn’t know when to stop, A prostitute with a heart of gold, etc. there is an awful lot packed into the roughly two hours thirty run time, and the whole thing is set against a backdrop of war and a momentous event that we all know is going to happen. I think this is why I never really connected with any of the characters and honestly didn’t feel that much for them at all.
Moving aside from the story, let’s talk about the other elements of the show. Performance-wise the show worked well. The cast looked great – as you know I’m a stickler for uniform but there was nothing to complain about in Stewart J Charlesworth’s costume design – and I really liked the staging, concrete slabs in the round with ammunition boxes used in a variety of ways to portray parts of offices, dorms, etc. Director – Brett Smock and Choreographer – Cressida Carré really put the cast through their paces and certain elements of the soldiers’ day really brought back unhappy memories of basic training in the RAF.
The cast were strong vocally – though one or two of the accents slipped in places – and Adam Rhys-Charles was my favourite of the male performers, particularly with his wonderful second act opener ‘Ain’t Where I Want to Be Blues’. However, for me, the truly stand-out performance was Eve Polycarp as Mrs. Kipfer, the owner of the local bordello. Forget tart with a heart, Kipfer is a pure hard-nosed business-woman who will only help out another human when it is in her own interest. This is all summed up in her big solo piece ‘I Know What You Came For’ which she delivers with power and gusto, leaving nobody in any doubt who is her number one priority.
And this is one of the strengths of the show. A wide range of musical styles and numbers that really add to the narrative and explain the thoughts of the characters signing them. One particularly fine example is Maggio’s number ‘Love the Army’ which is beautifully delivered and has lyrics that really resonated. Nick Barstow pulls off a brilliant job of re-working the music and delivering a great accompaniment with his five-piece band.
All told, From Here to Eternity, is a good show that misses out on its full potential due to a book that doesn’t really allow the characters to develop and bring the audience along with their story. While I loved the music and staging and the cast, I left feeling a bit let down that I had little interest in the lives and loves of the people I had spent the last couple of hours with.
Review by Terry Eastham
Tim Rice and Stuart Brayson’s epic musical ‘From Here To Eternity’ – the first London revival in a newly revised production at Charing Cross Theatre, where it runs to 17 December 2022.
The cast features Jonny Amies, Jonathon Bentley, Desmonda Cathabel, Leonard Cook, Kyerron Dixon-Bassey, Sarah Drake, Dominic Adam Griffin, Cassius Hackforth, Robin Hayward, Callum
Henderson, James Mateo-Salt, Rhys Nuttall, Jack Ofrecio, Jaden Oshenye, Eve Polycarpou, Adam Rhys-Charles, Carley Stenson, Alan Turkington, Joseph Vella.
Creative team: Director Brett Smock, Set & Costume Designer Stewart J. Charlesworth, Musical Director, Orchestrations and New Musical Arrangements Nick J. Barstow, Choreographer Cressida Carré, Sound Designer Chris Murray, Lighting Designer Adam King, Projection Designer Louise Rhoades-Brown, Costume Supervisor Lucy Lawless, Casting Director Jane Deitch, Production Manager James Anderton, Produced by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment, Bill Kenwright and Heartaches Limited, General Management by Chris Matanlé.
Set in the two weeks leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, ‘From Here To Eternity’ is a compelling portrait of humanity, love, duty and redemption set against the backdrop of a beautiful and conflicted paradise.
Adapted from the classic novel by James Jones, this breathtaking musical unites the writing talents of Tim Rice (lyrics), Stuart Brayson (music) and Donald Rice and Bill Oakes (book), and is directed by Brett Smock (Producing Artistic Director/The Rev Theatre Company).
and Heartaches Limited
‘From Here To Eternity’
Adapted from the classic novel
by James Jones
Lyrics Tim Rice, Music Stuart Brayson,
Book Donald Rice and Bill Oakes
Directed by Brett Smock
Charing Cross Theatre
London WC2N 6NL
Box office: 08444 930650
29 October – 17 December 2022