Review Roundup: FROM HERE TO ETERNITY Opens in the West End- UPDATED!
Tim Rice's From Here to Eternity began previews at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 30 September, starring Darius Campbell (Chicago, West End) as Warden, Siubhan Harrison (Grease, West End) as Lorene, Robert Lonsdale (Anna Christie, Donmar Warehouse) as Prewitt, Ryan Sampson (Open Court, Royal Court) as Maggio and Rebecca Thornhill (South Pacific, UK tour) as Karen.
Pearl Harbor,1941, where the girls sing "don'cha like Hawaii", the men of G Company sing the blues, and where even on an army base, love and desire are never very far away. When the troubled Private Prewitt falls for the kind hearted escort club girl Lorene, and when his platoon sergeant, Warden, embarks on a dangerous affair with his commanding officer's wife, Karen, the lives of both men are set on a course they cannot control. As war approaches, the worlds of the four lovers and the soldiers of G Company are dramatically ripped apart.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Carrie Dunn, BroadwayWorld: I can't guarantee a long run for 'From Here ToEternity', but I hope it proves a hit with theatregoers...Robert Lonsdale takes the role of Private Robert E Lee Prewitt, and it's one that should guarantee him musical theatre leads for years to come. Not always necessarily likeable, this proud, stubborn career soldier refuses to obey the whims of his superior officers and chooses instead to live by his own principles. Lonsdale sings beautifully, and even looks like a convincing welterweight boxer - no easy task...The show is staged serviceably by director Tamara Harvey, who seems to have struggled in places with the sheer number of people in her cast that need to be fitted on to stage; I would have also liked a slightly more even hand with the tone, which has a tendency to wobble from melodrama to slapstick.
Michael Billington, The Guardian: "Highly professional". Those are the words that come to mind watching this new musical...But, for all the dedication of the creative team...one is left asking two questions: why now, and what does music add to the story?...The show, however, is executed with considerable skill. Brayson's score encompasses a variety of styles including military chorales, Hawaiian hula routines and bluesy solos. I just wish the music had a little more room to breathe...Tamara Harvey's production and Soutra Gilmour's design make ingenious use of the stage space by suggesting that the action unfolds against a series of receding, dilapidated proscenium arches. Javier de Frutos's inventive choreography turns military drill into muscular dance routines and captures the sleazy sensuality of the aptly named New Congress Club. And I have no fault to find with the performers: Robert Lonsdale as the doggedly withdrawn Prewitt, Ryan Sampson as the breezily opportunist Maggio, Darius Campbell as Warden and Rebecca Thornhill as the captain's wife.
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: ...the show's USP is clearly that it's fleshing out the story with song and dance and I have to say I don't think that Rice, who supplies lyrics, and his team - Stuart Brayson (music) and Bill Oakes (book) - have done a bad job...The Second World War context seems a bit of an afterthought, but the score is retro-flavoured, imbued with blues, swing and big band influences, without feeling derivative or tame. If I came away only humming a few numbers, there were none I sat through on sufferance...Handsome, sweet-voiced Robert Lonsdale shines brightest in the Montgomery Clift role of Prewitt, refusing to knuckle down and pick up his boxing gloves despite the authorities' vicious bullying, but all the leading players perform with aplomb...This isn't a major musical to rival South Pacific but in a West End awash with shows for kids and kidults it dares to speak to our inner grown-up about frustrated yearning, fleeting romance and pluck.
Paul Taylor, The Independent: The aim is a grittier, sexier low-down on life in the US army and the show...certainly gives you a powerful sense of men, thrown by poverty into this substitute family, and the nervous energies that are barely held in check by the furious military drilling in Javier de Frutos's testosterone-fuelled choreography...Tamara Harvey's production is strong on atmosphere - with its dissolving painted postcards of Hawaii and its crashing waves projected at the back of Soutra Gilmour's design of receding ruined arches. And Brayson's catchy score, which moves deftly through swing, blues, jazz and early rock'n'roll can rise to good old showbiz brassiness when needed...For all the show's many defects, though, you come away impressed by its seriousness of purpose, by individual performances (Ryan Sampson is excellent as the jesting, bullied-to-death Maggio) and by the heart-tugging ambivalence of its patriotic set-pieces.
Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail: This one is a hoot, not necessarily by intention. It contains soupy tunes, glistening biceps, reality star Darius Campbell and his jawline, and generally more corn than even the leading breakfast cereal brands...Director Tamara Harvey gives everything maximum wallop. Cliches abound, from the smoulderin'-loner scene in the Army dorm' when a new guy arrives, to the inevitable assault course when NCOs try to break rebel Prewitt...Mr Campbell does some worthy old-fashioned crooning - in a pleasant song called Marking Time there are moments when he actually sounds like Nat King Cole. Mr Lonsdale is a more surprising stage presence, having a measure of unpredictability...From Here To Eternity is harmless nonsense. It might even become a camp classic. At a stretch.
David Benedict, Variety: Impressively stylized choreography and punchy lighting cues ignite "G Company Blues," the opening number of lyricist-producer Tim Rice's new tuner "From Here To Eternity." Surprising though its expressive dynamism is, the sad news is that it's downhill from there. Helmer Tamara Harvey sends in the troops of a notably well-synced creative team, but although their vigorous attacks create impact, they cannot sustain tension when book, music and lyrics are so thin. "Maybe," announces one of Rice's lyrics, "we've come to the conclusion we're nothing special." Indeed.
Simon Edge, Express: It's all raw, pessimistic stuff and Rice resists the temptation to play smart with his lyrics. Prewitt's simple refrain "a man's on his own until he dies" pretty much gets the spirit of it, along with Maggio's increasingly ironic I Love The Army, which culminates in a howling four-letter rant against God. It's disappointing that the title number From Here To Eternity never really gets going, and intercutting the iconic surf scene with soldiers receiving letters from home ends up in rather a muddle. The show may also have been written with half an eye on Broadway, where Pearl Harbour resonates as the 9/11 of its day. But as a dark, sprawling tale that avoids obvious emotional button-pushing, lazy juke-box numbers or ear-worm tunes running through the whole score, it's a commendably ambitious work that makes a refreshing addition to the West End menu.
Mayer Nissim, Digital Spy: Intertwining stories, love, life and death play out as war looms. The battered arch backdrop and clever use of screens and curtains are as classy as can be. The choreography from Javier De Frutos is beautiful. Who doesn't love a bunch of ripped guys in army fatigues bouncing over single-bunk beds, or a slow-mo punchup? And despite some dodgy accents (though nothing near as bad as The Bodyguard), there's some very strong acting. The fling between Campbell's Warden and Thornhill's Holmes is entirely believable. Prewitt and Lorene's love is more lightweight, but still hangs together. The revelation though is Sampson's Private Maggio...The stage comes alive every time he speaks or sings, and if the rest of the characters were as multi-layered as he makes Maggio, this would be a triumph. As it is, the other protagonists are too one-dimensional to really get behind, despite the actors' best efforts.
Michael Coveney, WhatsOnStage: Tamara Harvey's production goes back to James Jones' 1951 novel, based on his personal experience, to provide a more concentrated take on the square-bashing, not to say gay-bashing, rigours of the rifle corps. What it doesn't have is the emotional intensity and narrative control of the movie - the first act is far too long and windy - and the music, oh dear, is more serviceable than inspired, with minimal harmonic complexity and no flat-out melody to sing about...It would be too easy, though, to overlook the fact that none of Rice's lyrics seem forced or over-heated. He does have an unequalled knack of matching colloquial ease with inner feeling, notably here in Prewitt's despairing solo suspended between life and death.
Edward Seckerson, TheArtsDesk: The problem with this ambitious show is that it wants so much to be gritty, tough, and emotionally uncompromising but at heart is just another soft-bellied musical in need of a personal trainer. Yes, there is athleticism and testosterone aplenty in the brawling butchness and flying bodies of Javier De Frutos' choreography but who's fooling who in this tight-panted ensemble and why does the pent-up aggression feel so counterfeit? Or the full-frontal piss feel so contrived? It's something to do with the "cleanness" of it all, the slick way in which it goes through the motions of trying to be a cutting-edge show. Even Soutra Gilmour's distressed set - a series of bomb-damaged proscenium arches, a portent of its inevitable climax - is a constant reminder that this is From Here to Eternity - the Musical and we shouldn't anticipate that it will dig too deep.
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard: From Here to Eternity aspires to be both gritty and erotic, yet in the end seems sprawling and underpowered. Its ambition is impressive. But only in its final moments does it feel urgent.
Photo Credit: John Persson