10/12/2017

Ogunquit's "From Here to Eternity": Life Is Still a Beach

The Cast of "From Here to Eternity"
(photo: Gary Ng)

The journey From Here to Eternity has been a lenghty one, but the 2013 London musical has finally arrived on our shores (well, the shores of Ogunquit Playhouse, anyway). This eagerly anticipated national rollout of the adaptation by Bill Oakes and Daniel Rice 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 in London. Even with Lyrics by Tim Rice (who was also the Producer, with Lee Menzies) and Music by Stuart Brayson (of the band Pop), it lasted just over six months, and failed to garner any Olivier Award nominations. When it opened there, the most cynical critics referred to it as “From Here to November”. (The 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 proposed transition to New York, one would have to say it surely deserved a better reception. It’s not without its flaws, but these might be overcome with some more careful editing. What has been changed thus far however causes one to question how promising its future is. The work as it stands seems to have lost its focus. It has the distinct feeling that it's the result of a cut and paste job, and there's a more pronounced emphasis on politically incorrect terms (by today's standards, that is) such as “queers”, “Jew boy”, “Krauts” and so on, all too common then, and presented here without much context. As a result, it has become a strange amalgam of unexplored themes out of context, bearing scant little resemblance to the London version.

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: First Sergeant Milt Warden (Kevin Aichele), enters into an affair with Karen Holmes (Robyn Hurder), the wife of his superior, Capt. Dana “Dynamite” Holmes (Bradley Dean); Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Derek Carley), a career military man, falls in love with Lorene (Jenna Nicole Schoen), one of the New Congress Club girls (a dance hall hostess in the film, but clearly a prostitute in this version), working for Mrs. Kipfer (Jodi Kimura); and Pvt. Angelo Maggio (Michael Tacconi), 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 na├»ve 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 “Dynamite” Holmes, based on some bad personal history. Private Isaac Bloom (Jason Micheal Evans) has his own demons.

The musical numbers, played by a terrific band and sung by a superb cast, are still many 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). There are several standouts, such as “Thirty Year Man” (delivered by the hunky yet vulnerable Carley, who immediately captures and continually focuses our attention on his character), “At Ease” (a solo by Aichele, a tall, dark and handsome Warden with a magnificent voice), “Fight the Fight” (an anthem by Carley, and a real showstopper), “Run Along, Joe” (a beautifully sad lament by Schoen), “Love Me Forever Today” (a tender duet for Carley and Schoen), “Ain’t Where I Wanna Be Blues” (early rock and roll as sung by Carley and Aichele), the intricate quintet “Something in Return” (by the four principals and Tacconi), and the poignant “Boys of ‘41” (sung by the Women). When originally viewed as an HD broadcast last season from London, there were fouteen numbers in the first act and thirteen numbers in the second (here trimmed to a total of nineteen, including five reprises); some fine songs unfortunately had to be dropped (and one, not listed in the program, a solo for the character of Karen, “Another Language” has become a duet), but this slimmer version is aimed at a more theatrical experience. Whether it succeeds remains to be seen.



The Cast of "From Here to Eternity"
(photo: Gary Ng)

The huge cast of over two dozen singing and dancing actors include the men of Company G and the girls of the Congress Club. The technical credits included the terrific Set Design by Stanley A. Meyer and Costume Design by Dustin Cross (at least for the ladies, as the men’s outfits are uniformly alike), striking Lighting Design by Richard Latta, effective Sound Design by Kevin Heard, moving Projection Design by Chrsitopher Ash, and fine Musical Direction by Vadim Feichtner; the Direction and Choreography are by Brett Smock, who is also the Creative Producer. The overall direction is fine, but the choreography is mostly robotic except when the women are involved.

This is still 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 definitely plot and subplot heavy, especially in the expository scenes of the first act. The show as it now stands needs to clarify its presentation of a homosexual subculture on its way to becoming what it could be. You may see and hear for yourself through October 29
th. As it stands, it’s chock full of energy and vitality, with enough stirring numbers to rock a house from here to.....Broadway.



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