Only the bravest of directors would attempt to put the bombing of Pearl Harbor on stage.
Tamara Harvey takes a less-is-more route in the new London musical “From Here to Eternity” by Tim Rice (lyrics) and Stuart Brayson (music).
In her expensive-looking production, the lighting, suggestive sound effects, and some well-choreographed slow-motion work create a vivid stage picture which doesn’t trivialize the real event.
As for the rest of the show, which is based on James Jones’s 1951 novel, a bit of triviality might have been a good thing. It oozes earnestness with every key change, and hammers its libertarian message with finger-wagging relentlessness.
It tells the tale of Private Prewitt (Robert Lonsdale), a young piece of cannon fodder whose anti-authoritarian views get him into constant trouble. He’s a boxer, a guitar-strumming songwriter, and an anguished loner with fine principles.
He says things like “Your suffering has made you beautiful” to a weary Hawaiian prostitute.
He’s a noble-savage sock-puppet, there to prove a point about the army’s hatred of dreamers. The officers are all sadists, just to help you get the point.
There’s another plot about an affair between First Sergeant Milt Warden (Darius Campbell) and the wife of his boorish commanding officer Dana Holmes.
Book writer Bill Oakes ticks further libertarian boxes with a scene set in a gay bar. (It was cut from Jones’s novel before publication.)
Brayson provides a lively 1940s score and one or two tunes to take home. There are seductive melodies for the prostitutes (“Don’cha Like Hawaii?”), and a twangy blues for Prewitt.
The Act 1 closer “More Than America” shows the soldiers preparing for battle, dreaming of their sweethearts. A rousing off-to-war anthemic number “The Boys of ‘41” closes the show.
In a musical that celebrates individualism, this tugging at the patriotic heartstrings feels bogus.
The show is Rice’s first work for musical theater since “Aida,” his 2000 collaboration with Elton John, and his lyrics are solid rather than inspired.
“We’re simply hanging out to dry, we don’t know where, we don’t know why,” is a typical rhymelet. There’s nothing to match “They need to adore me, so Christian Dior me” from “Evita.”
Campbell and Rebecca Thornhill make attractive lovers, and Lonsdale plays Prewitt as a muscular little boy lost.
It probably won’t be here an eternity, but it’ll be here a while. Rating: ***.
“From Here to Eternity” is at the Shaftesbury Theatre. http://www.fromheretoeternitythemusical.com +44-20-7379-5399
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(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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