Review – From Here to Eternity, Shaftesbury Theatre

Friday 18 October 2013

mainTwo love affairs, a spolier alert, extreme violence, several uses of the ‘F’ word, a body count higher than in Hamlet, drag queens, pugilism, racism, homophobia, prostitution, references to a hysterectomy and gonorrhea, a prison chain gang, the attack on Pearl Harbour, a gay kiss, a bare bottie and a soldier taking a leak on stage. Phew.

This isn’t your bog standard (unless you count the urination) musical fare and there’s an awful lot to fit in, let alone adding songs to increase the burden. If the critics don’t like From Here to Eternity the title may lend itself a little to easily to some chucklesome headlines.

Yet, there was something promising about the opening music, played on a lone ukulele as the front cloth dissolved to crashing waves that here, even at the Shaftesbury Theatre – a venue notorious for flop shows – there might just be a new musical with something special.

Of course there was still a long way to go. 2 hours 45 minutes to be precise. Plenty of time for things to go horribly wrong.

Based on James Jones’ novel which was adapted into the classic 1953 Academy Award-winning film (Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra and Deborah Kerr etc), probably what’s most startling for a new musical (lyrics Tim Rice, music Stuart Brayson and book Bill Oakes) is that some of the score is not just rather good, but a few of the numbers are instantly catchy and even several days later Phil is still humming one of the more insistent melodies.

This was a mid preview, presumably there’s still trimming to be done as there are longueurs in Act 1, but, unlike The Light Princess, the music has pleasing variety from bluesy and folksy to jazz and swing.

It’s 1941 Hawaii. Another atmospheric Soutra Gilmour set, here with receding semi-destroyed arches suggesting that the infamous attack looms or we’re in for a revival of Follies.

We follow the love lives of two soldiers, reluctant boxer and bugler Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Robert Lonsdale) who falls for a club hostess-for-hire Lorene (Siubhan Harrison) and a platoon sergeant Warden (Darius Campbell, the artist formerly known as Danesh) so tall he barely gets under the doors onto the set, who embarks on a dodgy affair with his commanding officer’s wife Karen (Rebecca Thornhill). He chances 20 years in military prison for the affair, but then she’s offered her company to many others before who presumably also believed her worth the risk. Stonkingly on topic, audience members can ask for a lei in the theatre’s foyer and receive one for only £4 without fear of incarceration.

And yes, that iconic film scene on the beach is recreated. Well, almost, there’s no rolls in the surf, not even a sandwich on the beach, but we do see projection designer Jon Driscoll‘s impressively realised waves crashing around them. Shame they didn’t throw a bucket of water over them too. Perhaps this was the point where that soldier might have considered relieving himself.

Many of the accolades will go to the splendid male chorus who execute the excellent military drill choreography of Javier de Frutos with crisp precision, Lonsdale’s guitar strumming turn and Ryan Sampson as Private Maggio (the Sinatra role), the ukulele-playing buddy of Prewitt who provides some much-needed comedy despite the numerous iniquities heaped upon his character.

Impressively for a musical, the grittiness of the story is as much to the fore than the two slightly brittle love stories. The cast, choreography, songs, design (again including wigs by Richard Mawbey, who must currently be in a permanent state of tonging) and sculptural lighting by Bruno Poet all make big impressions along with Tamara Harvey‘s staging which also manages the historic attack rather cleverly. If only we’d heard more of the ukulele.

Phil even fessed up to being ‘slightly moved’ by the finale, and this in a state of stone cold sobriety. But don’t read too much into this, he found his eyes moistening watching Roy and Hayley Cropper dancing in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom on Coronation Street last night.

Phil was offered a free lei on Tottenham Cort Road yesterday, where teams of Hawaiian clad, presumably “resting” actors were promoting the show. Whether this is enough to lure people to the Shaftesbury remains to be seen. The preview performance he attended was far from full (the upper circle was closed) so it’s probably dependent on good word of mouth, great reviews and the overspill of those unable obtain seats for that other love-story-set-against-historic-events-doom-fest, Miss Saigon.

And he’s pleased to see his moniker for the show, North Pacific is catching on. If only he’d been smart enough to come up with the vastly superior and cruelly hilarious one currently doing the rounds, From Here to November. Ouch.




3 Responses to “Review – From Here to Eternity, Shaftesbury Theatre”

  1. Doug Ridley Says:

    Oh dear.
    I have seen my share of bad musicals. Back in the 80s I saved up to see Barbara Cook in Carrie. I sat through the first half of Budgie with Anita Dobson and Adam Faith. I endured Love Never Dies TWICE (both freebies, obviously). FHTE was down there with the worst of them. There was an enjoyable 30 seconds when the audience chortled during the death scene, but other than that this show was truly dire. The book was flat with very little characterisation, the blocking was out and out wierd (why did she feel the need to stand on the table and take her clothers off??), the singing was weak….
    I have long been an avid fan of the WEWs. Frankly, I feel betrayed.
    I’m off to sulk in a corner. xxx

  2. suissemusical Says:

    I really don’t know what to say about the review actually…
    Honestly I was so excited to see this “new epic musical” on west end for the first time. I really couldn’t wait for the preview nights…
    Well… then the final day was there and I moved forward to my seat…full ox exiting like a small kid before Christmas. The opening number with the feeling of tropical islands, the sound of waves and wind….wow…that can be a nice evening… and then? That’s it…. Most time from now on you see the actors moving the beds on the stage and from the stage. Well, some other accessories as well are moved. …on the stage, from the stage…and again, and again….. There are no big changes on the stage so far. Just moving the items from the left to the right…again, again, again… Just to say something positive: the light choreography is well done.
    Poor staging, poor songs. The story and the actors are not catching you for a minute. You don’t get any feeling to the things which are happening on the stage. Every time I’m asking myself what’s going on there on the stage. Oh, well….they say there are two love stories happening there. Ok, yes, here are two couples moving around there .. but feelings, love? Playing with enthusiasm? No….no chance to see something which is going in this direction.
    Even the opening number of “South pacific” is more exiting then the whole musical and the whole 02:45 hours…
    The most disappointing show I saw for a long time. I think with the thinking and the atmosphere of the pacific, the technology which is used in these times for a show (like “Rebecca” or “Ghost”) you can do much, much more then you will see on this stage….
    Finally you’re leaving the theater and all the songs are leaving your mind and memories as well. ahm…What is the meaning of musical and musical comedy btw….??…..

  3. s tetlow Says:

    This show is seems to have no overall guiding hand as there are some excellent parts, the score and the performance of Robert Lonsdale and some terrible parts, the book and direction.Why does the leading lady stand on a table and take off her dress after being propositioned by the most wooden actor on the West End stage? Why does said actor emerge two minutes later from a closet dressed in women’s clothes? The potential for two great theatrical moments are lost by having the ensemble on stage – Robert Lonsdale’s solo about not fighting and ‘the scene’ on the beach.I found the set confusing, what do crumbling proscenium arches have to do with 1940’s Hawaii? and the back projections were, frankly, amateurish.I feel the show would have been better as a sung through piece as the book is poor.With the exception of Darius Cambell’s acting the cast is strong but I fear will not be in residence at the Shaftsbury theatre long.

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