Returning to London for the first time in close to a decade, this musical version of From Here To Eternity (music by Stuart Brayson, lyrics by Tim Rice, new orchestrations by Nick J Barstow) takes us into the US Army in 1941, the fortnight immediately preceding the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Young bugler and boxer Pte Robert E Lee Prewitt (Jonathon Bentley) has transferred to G Company, and all he wants is to be a soldier (and possibly seek out one of the local whore, Lorene (Desmonda Cathabel), who is his sort-of love interest).
He’s wanted for his skill in the ring, to win the Company a trophy and his senior officer a promotion, but after injuring an opponent he wants to keep his head down and refuses to play the game.
The Army is shown to be cruel, brutal, racist, classist and homophobic. The Captain (Alan Turkington) is in a loveless marriage of convenience with Karen (Carley Stenson), who reveals his cruelty and indifference (it is heavily implied he has cost her the chance to bear children).
She – and you may recall, film fans, the beach romp from the big and small screen versions – is having a fling with Sgt Warden (Adam Rhys-Charles), a decent man but one mired in procedure.
Then there’s Maggio (Jonny Amies), an Italian “queer” who is constantly bullied despite his easy manner and sense of fun, and Bloom (Jack Ofrecio), who seems stable until his secret world is torn apart.
This should be a powerful and emotional musical production, but I kept feeling that there was a more effective show in there straining to get out.
The set (by Stewart J Charlesworth), which is presented in traverse and dominated by concrete steps and squares, is impressive, and regularly flooded with projections highlighting where we are and when.
Many scenes and numbers make full use of the space, so that wherever you are seated in the audience you see the action from a slightly different perspective.
From Here To Eternity struggles a little to make us care about Prewitt’s dilemma or eventual fate – I found it a rather underwritten performance, and there is not much chemistry between him and Cathabel’s Lorene (she is good alone in Run Along Joe).
The strongest impact comes from Stenson’s Karen (her I’ll Remember The Day is a show-stopper), closely followed by brothel madam Mrs Kipfer (great vocals from Eve Polycarpou), and Amies’s Maggio (although I felt his big number I Love The Army a little overcooked).
Fight sequences emphasise the latent violence within men cooped up waiting for battle, and the male-dominated cast certainly oozes more than a bit of testosterone.
Service can damage a man; so can ambition. A thoughtful duet between Warden and Prewitt (Ain’t Where I Wanna Be Blues) exudes regret and frustration; while Warden’s earlier At Ease plays on the word of command and personal insecurity.
Brent Shock directs, Cressida Carré is the choreographer. With a bit of a trim and more focus on the impact of rules, segregation and trials on a “30 years man”, From Here To Eternity as a musical may achieve an emotional connection and purpose.
This is a technically excellent show but it occasionally missteps, especially towards the end with bizarre slo-mo choices and an ineffective finale.
I am glad to have had the chance to see this, having previously watched the filmed version of the 2013 West End production, and it undoubtedly has its moments – but I’ll stick with the (much loved by me) 1953 movie for my fix of this story, sanitised though it may be.
You can watch From Here To Eternity at the Charing Cross Theatre until 17 December – purchase tickets here. It is produced by Aria Entertainment, Bill Kenwright and Heartaches Limited.
Image credit: Alex Brenner/Mark Senior