Two 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.