BWW Reviews: FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, Shaftesbury Theatre, October 19 2013

By: Oct. 24, 2013
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One has to admire the bravery of anyone who's willing to launch a brand-new musical at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Despite the successes of Hairspray and Rock of Ages, people seem to enjoy whispering about the 'curse of the Shaftesbury' due to its string of flops, and it seems to me that a fair number of onlookers really do want new shows to fail just for the continuation of this coincidental curse.

I can't guarantee a long run for 'From Here To Eternity', but I hope it proves a hit with theatregoers. An adaptation of James Jones's novel (and staging influenced by the classic movie), Tim Rice's lyrics, Stuart Brayson's music and Bill Oakes's book tell the tale of two love affairs set against the backdrop of the approaching Pearl Harbour. The opening scene gives us a good indication of who will live and who will die and who won't get a happily-ever-after - the next two and three-quarter hours takes us back in time through the events of December 1941.

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.

Siubhan Harrison, as club hostess Lorene, makes an immediate impact from the very start, and as her romance with Prewitt (Lonsdale) unfolds, the chemistry between the two is compelling. Although the story is an unwieldy one to fit into a musical theatre structure, meaning that much character development is cut out in favour of including more of the plot, Harrison and Lonsdale are a perfect pairing; it'll be a hard heart who fails to be moved by Prewitt and Lorene's love against the odds.

Darius Campbell and Rebecca Thornhill, as Sergeant Warden and captain's wife Karen Holmes, fare less well. For a relationship originally based on physical attraction, there's little fizz between the two - even in the attempted recreation of that famous scene in the shallows committed to celluloid history by Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr. Indeed, Thornhill strips off completely as Act One closes, and one can't help but think that such overt 'sexing up' would not have been needed had this duo appeared to have any kind of spark.

Campbell sings very well, but spends much of the first act settling into his character; as the pacing quickens in the much stronger Act Two, he's much less awkward to watch, but still lacks some of the natural authority one might have hoped for. Martin Marquez, however, as G Company's Captain and Karen's husband, has a horrendously underwritten part - it's difficult to have sympathy for the adulterous wife and her lover when we've seen so little of the cruel husband and terrible boss they're betraying. Even so, Marquez is veering on incomprehensible in the few lines he has due to a garbled accent.

Ryan Sampson as rebellious mouthy Italian-American Angelo Maggio is the personification of comedy and tragedy throughout, teaching Prewitt the meaning of loyalty and friendship once more, and embodying the limitless potential of man's inhumanity to man.

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. For my tastes, there is also a problem with the massive number of scene changes and set and prop tweaks, meaning people are flitting on and off stage all the time.

Fortunately Javier De Frutos's choreography is visually outstanding and performed by an appropriately well-drilled cast, particularly the military-tinged production numbers from the men of the ensemble.

This is a thoughtful, moving piece of theatre, which is not just about two pairs of star-cross'd lovers. It encourages thought about the nature of war and its impact on everyday lives, and may well even be introducing younger elements of the audience to the fates of the Boys of '41.

From Here To Eternity runs at the Shaftesbury Theatre.