As I walked into Shaftesbury Theatre I was greeted as if I had just come off a flight to Honolulu. A Hawaiian lei (flower garland) was placed over my head and I was welcomed into the romantic, exotic world of the Pacific. Everyone was smiling as we sat, garlanded, waiting to watch the world premiere of this new musical.
The production is based on James Jones’ novel about the lives and loves of the American GIs in Hawaii in the months leading up to the Pearl Harbor Invasion in 1941. Private Prewitt, a skilled boxer and bugler, has been transferred to G Company in order to win the Military Boxing Championship, but when he refuses to fight Warden is asked to discover the reason.
Two illicit love affairs give us the personal, intimate moments set against the backdrop of the impending disaster. The two sets of lovers echo each other’s problems and sentiments: Sergeant Warden (Darius Campbell) falls for his Captain’s wife, Karen Holmes, played by Rebecca Thornhill; Private Prewitt (beautifully played by Robert Lonsdale) loves Lorene, an escort girl (Siubhan Harrison).
I must admit to some bias when it comes to Darius Campbell, having voted for him a dozen times on Popstars/Pop Idol, but his voice is stronger than his acting and his love scenes with Thornhill are a little wooden. However he redeems himself completely in his blues duet with Lonsdale: “Ain’t who I want to be, ain’t where I want to be blues”. This for me is the stand out number in the show as the deep richness of his voice comes through strongly, complementing Lonsdale’s more lyrical tone. Knowing more about the background to Prewitt and nothing about Warden, we care more for Prewitt.
This is the case too for Lorene – what is she doing there? Is the American Depression the reason for all these characters to be so sad and lost? There is no answer to be found here. We have to accept these characters at face value. Angelo Maggio, the small Italian GI, sensitively played by Ryan Sampson, introduces some comedy into the mix alongside the tragedy of his fate, and he opens and closes the show, playing his ukulele: depicting a personal moment against the backdrop of epic proportions.
The songs (lyrics by Tim Rice; music by Stuart Brayson) are often attractive and enjoyable and I particularly liked “More than America”, “Love Me Forever Today” and “Another Day”. The music combines the worlds of Hawaii, Kentucky, the Blues, Rock and Roll, Swing and Musical Theatre to show life in the 1951 but, however hopeful the songs might be, we know that disaster lies ahead and this has a limiting effect upon the mood of the audience.
The fight scenes as well as other tense moments are beautifully choreographed by Kate Waters, one of only two women on the Equity Register of Fight Directors, involving slow motion, freeze frame, deep drumming and strong impactful lighting, which make these scenes memorable, in the style of ‘Frantic Assembly.’ Tamara Harvey (director) sees the production as a thriller, war story, love story and psychological examination but I am not sure that it reaches these heights. Many issues are touched upon but not explored: sexism; anti Semitism; homophobia; racism. This is not Rogers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” – we do not know nor love the characters by the end of the night but we have enjoyed the vigour, physicality and musicality of the talented cast.
Lines such as, “What is it with you women and your futures?” are outdated and made the audience laugh but Prewitt’s statement: “I make my own choice; I’ll find my own voice, then I’ll do it right” is uplifting, despite the invasion to come.
And maybe that is the problem here. We know about the impending catastrophe before we enter the theatre and the two women on deck at the start and end of the musical have told us exactly what will happen in their lives. It is a bleak tale and no amount of hopeful singing can change that.
Review by Valerie Watling
From Here To Eternity
Showing at Shaftesbury Theatre
Cast: Christine Allado (New Congress Club Trio), Keisha Amponsa Banson (New Congress Club Trio), Marc Antolin (Private ‘Friday’ Clark), Julie Armstrong (Mrs Kipfer), James Ballanger (Private), John Brannoch (Tommy/Private), Darius Campbell (First Sergeant Milt Warden), Abigail Climer (New Congress Club Girl), Brian Doherty (Sergeant ‘Fatso’ Judson), Jessica Ellen (Swing), Dale Evans (Swing), Shimi Goodman (Drag Queen/Private), Siubhan Harrison (Lorene), Kirby Hughes (New Congress Club Girl), Lauren Ingram (Swing), Dean John-Wilson (Private), Joshua Lacey (Private Isaac Bloom), Robert Lonsdale (Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt), Carolyn Maitland (New Congress Club Girl), Martin Maquez (Captain Dana Holmes), Yiftach Mizrahi (Lieutenant/Private), Warren Sollars (Company Bugler Andesson/Flight Captain), David Stoller (Seregant Ike Galovitch), Rebecca Sutherland (Maureen, New Congress Club Girl), Rebecca Thornhill (Karen Holmes), Laura Tyrer (Billy, New Congress Club Girl), Lauren Varnham (New Congress Club Girl), Adam Vaughan (Private), Stephen Webb (Hal/Private), Matthew Wesley (Swing/Dance Captain).
Creative Team: Novelist James Jones, Lyrics & Producer Tim Rice, Music Stuart Brayson, Book Bill Oakes, Director Tamara Harvey, Set & Costume Designer Soutra Gilmour, Choreographer Javier De Frutos, Lighting Designer Bruno Poet, Sound Designer Mick Potter, Projection Designer Jon Driscoll, Orchestrator & Music Supervisor David White, Casting Director Pippa Ailion CDG, Fight Director Kate Waters, Hair & Wigs Designer Richard Mawbey, Music Director Tom Deering, Production Manager Patrick Molony, General Manager Gareth Johnson, Producer Lee Menzies.
Wednesday 23rd October 2013