BWW Review: FROM HERE TO ETERNITY at Ogunquit Playhouse
What is billed as a new musical with retooled orchestrations of music by Stuart Brayson and lyrics by Tim Rice, From Here to Eternity, at the Ogunquit Playhouse, falls flat with weak storylines, musical numbers that do little to engage the equally weak characters, and solo numbers that, while trying to be epic, leave the audience wanting something different.
The opening number, "G Company Blues" has promise. With a stage full of soldiers professing their military courage to athletic choreography and spine-tingling vocals, it is a strong start. But from here, watching From Here to Eternity felt like an eternity.
The setting is Hawaii leading up to the war starting invasion at Pearl Harbor. Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Derek Carley) is a tough private assigned to Company G because of his boxing prowess. When he refuses to join the boxing competition due to an unfortunate episode from a previous bout, he loses favor with the unit Captain, Dana Holmes (Bradley Dean). The Captain knows about losing favor living with a promotion that is just out of his reach and a loveless marriage to his wife, Karen (Robyn Hurder) who simply goes through the motions of a dedicated military wife, while having a torrid affair with Sargent Milt Warden (Kevin Aichele) serving under her husband's command.
As for Prewitt, he falls hard for Lorene (Jenna Nicole Schoen) a high-class escort working for Mrs. Kipfer (Jodi Kimura) at a gentlemen's club. Lorene never lacks for a string of soldiers ready to pay $30 to spend the night with this Hawaiian beauty.
And thrown in simply for comic relief, of which there is very little, is Private Maggio (Michael Tacconi) a fast-talking soldier who while wooing the ladies is known to "roll" the homosexuals for cash in a part of the island where soldiers try to keep their secrets closeted from an unforgiving 1941 intolerance for such lifestyles.
One of the problems with the show is that we've seen these kinds of storylines before. South Pacific has the soldier falling in love with the native beauty with the backdrop of a war in progress and the hatred stirred from racial prejudice. Miss Saigon is another show that comes to mind with a forbidden love and a rampant display of an enemy subculture thriving on the presence of the US military. Both shows handled the subjects with a cohesive script, musical numbers that elevated the plot, and characters that were deeply woven together making the audience care about their outcomes.
In From Here to Eternity, there's a very talented cast simply going through the motions in a script that goes nowhere. There's little chemistry between the characters and not much in a flow of scenes that never tie things together in a finished script. And with the highlight of the show, the bombing of Pearl Harbor (wonderfully staged and highly effective, I must admit) not taking place until well into the second act, there's little time remaining in the show to become engaged in the wartime theme in any way.
As for the musical numbers, there's an odd mix of ballads and solos that over-emote how a character is feeling rather than moving the plot. You want the numbers to be epic, but they aren't. "Thirty Year Man" is a boring ballad that gets reprised, unfortunately. "Run Along Joe" as sung by Lorene should be a tender number but plays more like an intrusion in the action. And Karen's "I'll Remember the Day," an ode to her misery with men, seems woefully over acted. (Also, don't get me started on the number "Love Me Forever Today" sung by Prewitt and Lorene that played more like a number from the musical Grease than a tune celebrating a war time love affair. And I never want again to hear "Don'cha Like Hawaii" a puff piece that plays like a travelogue commercial for the Pacific paradise.)
As for the cast, their talent far exceeds the script given to them. Carley is an exceptional vocalist and fine actor making the most of a role that muddles its way in the show. I'd also like to see a bit more genuine chemistry between Carley and his lover portrayed by Schoen.
Aichele has a commanding voice and is perfectly fit to the role that Burt Lancaster popularized in the movie adaption. Hurder is a knock out in her role and the perfect foil to Dean's abusive husband. Tacconi is a charmer, hitting the highlights as a comic, though destined to a more dramatic conclusion.
The set worked well on multi-level platforms with palm trees and a stunning lighting design. The costume department worked overtime for the array of military outfits and casual wear for the Hawaiian countryside.
Perhaps the biggest shortcoming in the production is that it is based, not on the famous movie that so many have seen, but on a 1951 gritty novel about the brutality of military life pre-Pearl Harbor. The graphic depiction of "rolling queers" for money and fun and the savage treatment of abusing soldiers for insubordination is very disturbing when looking for a musical to entertain and inspire.
In a line from Sargent Milt Warden, he says, "a soldier isn't a soldier until he finds the enemy. After that, there is no stopping him."
Perhaps, a theatrical paraphrase for From Here to Eternity could be, "a musical isn't a musical until it finds its story. After that, there is no stopping it."
From Here to Eternity runs through October 29. For tickets go to ogunquitplayhouse.org