Fathom Events' "From Here to Eternity": Life Is a Beach

Robert Lonsdale as Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt in "From Here to Eternity"
(photo: Johan Persson)
The new musical “From Here to Eternity” has arrived on our shores, thanks to Fathom Events, as the latest stage-to-cinema offering from London. This eagerly anticipated adaptation by Bill Oakes from the 1951 novel by James Jones (which won the National Book award for Fiction and was adapted as a film in 1953, winning eight Oscars including Best Picture), was not a success. Even with Lyrics by Tim Rice (who was also the Producer, with Lee Menzies) and Music by Stuart Brayson (of the band Pop), directed by Tamara Harvey, it lasted just over six months, and failed to garner any Olivier Award nominations. When it opened in September 2013, the most cynical critics referred to it as “From Here to November”. (The actual title derives from a work of  Kipling: “Damned from here to eternity”). It was controversial, as it was actually based on the revised unexpurgated version of the novel released in 2011, which restored the author’s references to gay sex and prostitution. The stage show’s natural use of profanity and nudity may also have contributed to its early demise. Now that we’re able to judge the work for ourselves, even before its rumored transition to New York next year, one would have to say it surely deserved better. It’s not without its flaws, but these could be overcome with some careful editing. What this screening showed was just how worthy an effort it was, and how promising its future could be.

The time is 1941, at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, just months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the solid tradition of wartime-based musicals of the past, such as “South Pacific” and “Miss Saigon”, the story concentrates on love affairs involving military men, in this case members of G Company: 1st Sergeant Milt Warden (Darius Campbell), enters into an affair with Karen Holmes (Rebecca Thornhill) the wife of his superior, Capt. Dana “Dynamite” Holmes (Martin Marquez); Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Robert Lonsdale), a career military man, falls in love with Lorene (Siubhan Harrison), one of the New Congress Club girls (a dance hall hostess in the film, but clearly a prostitute in this version); and Pvt. Angelo Maggio (Ryan Sampson), has love for sale, as a sort of gay hustler. The relationship between Milt and Karen is a dangerous one, but no less than Prewitt’s naïve obsession with Lorene, or the plight of Maggio and his night job. Added to the tension is the “treatment”, or bullying, which Prewitt receives from his company when he refuses to box for the aforementioned “Dynamite” Holmes, based on some bad personal history.

The musical numbers, played by a terrific fifteen piece band, are many (perhaps too many, crying out for some trimming and tightening), and varied, ranging from ballads to blues to jazz, and big band to swing and even to somewhat anachronistic rock and roll (and sometimes with more brass than even the Army can handle). In the first act alone there are fourteen numbers, with several standouts: “Thirty Year Man” (delivered by the hunky yet vulnerable Lonsdale, who immediately captures and continually focuses our attention on his character), “Another Language” (a solo by Thornhill, a much more forward and experienced housewife than in the film), the rousing “You Got the Money” (sung by Harrison and the female ensemble), the lilting “Marking Time” (a solo by Campbell, a tall, dark and handsome Warden with a fine voice), “Fight the Fight” (an anthem twice reprised by Lonsdale, and a real showstopper), “Run Along, Joe” (a beautifully sad lament by Harrison), and the wonderful finale to the act, “More than America” (featuring Campbell, Thornhill and the Company). In the second act there are thirteen numbers, again with several memorable ones: “Love Me Forever Today” (a tender duet for Lonsdale and Harrison), “Ain’t Where I Wanna Be Blues” (early rock and roll as sung by Lonsdale and Campbell, the intricate quartets “Something in Return” and “From Here to Eternity” (both performed by the four principals), the poignant “Boys of ‘41” (sung by the Ladies), and “Run Along Joe” (reprised by Harrison).

The huge cast of thirty-three singing and dancing actors include the men of Company G: Fatso (Brian Doherty), Bugler/Anderson/Flight Captain (Warren Sollars), Sgt. Ike Galovich (David Stoller), Hal (Stephen Webb), and Privates played by Yiftach Mizrahi, Nuno Queimado, Dean John-Wilson, James Ballanger, Adam Vaughn and Matthew Wesley. The Congress Club girls include Maureen (Rebecca Sutherland), Billy (Lauren Tyrer), a trio (Lucinda Shaw, Christine Allado and Keisha Amponsa Banson), and a chorus of chorines: Abigail Climer, Lauren Varnham, Kirby Hughes, Carolyn Maitland, Jessica Ellen, Dale Evans, and Lauren Ingram. The technical credits included the terrific Set Design and Costume Design by Soutra Gilmour (at least for the ladies, as the men’s outfits are uniformly alike), striking Lighting Design by Bruno Poet, effective Sound Design by Mick Potter, moving Projection Design by Jon Driscoll, and fine Orchestrations and Musical Supervision by David White with Music Direction by Tom Deering. The Choreography by Javier de Frutos is sometimes frenetic, but this may be the result of the decision to film (and thus redirect) the show more as a movie than a live show.

This is a good show with great moments, superb singing and a lot of heart. It can be visually stunning (the attack on Pearl Harbor is amazingly portrayed). As often happens when a lengthy novel is adapted to the musical stage, it’s plot and subplot heavy, especially in the expository scenes of the first act. Some of the accents, purporting to be American, miss the mark (as do a few moments of out of synch syntax, such as the British “we’re different to them”, rather than the American “different than”, or even more correct “different from”). But these are small and easily corrected missteps on the way to the show this work could be. At it stands, it’s chock full of energy and vitality, with enough stirring numbers to rock a house from here to.....Broadway.

This month's Fathom Events include the Metropolitan Opera ("Macbeth" Oct.11 & 12, "Marriage of Figaro" Oct.18 & 22) and encores of  National Theatre Live's "Frankenstein" (Oct.27 & 29). Coming in November, "Of Mice and Men" (with James Franco and Chris O'Dowd, Nov.6).

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