A 2022 rendition of a WW2 story, which gets an incredible music makeover thanks to a breathtaking, beautifully updated score. With some of the best harmonies I’ve heard in theatre this year, as well as creative movement direction, it offers a touching, gritty insight into military life.
As a relatively new Londoner, I wasn’t here when the previous “From Here To Eternity” became the talk of the town in 2013. I’ve heard stories about a huge marketing budget and large-sized posters of the show flooding the tube, but I’ve never had a chance to see the show myself.
This time the marketing hype is different but just as big – I was aware of this show for months because its full-sized ads were placed strategically in West End programmes of various shows.
Let’s get to the story though. The play is based on a 1951 book by James Jones, focusing on several members of a U.S. Army infantry company stationed in Hawaii in the months leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Partly based on the author’s real experiences during the war, the production is described as a “musical for adults” – with themes of sex work, homosexual encounters, racism, homophobia and juicy layers of drama and tension between the soldiers and their officers/captains. It falls, script-wise, quite close to “South Pacific”. There is a discussion of obedience vs ethics, and love vs betrayal. A strong, shocking (for a 2022 audience) theme of aggressively treating any “queers” in the army marks a painful theme.
The expectations for performances are high – with the sourcebook itself being 861 pages long, the complexity of a plot is not easy to translate into a 2-hour play. The 1953 movie version of “From Here to Eternity” won 8 Academy Awards and starred Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra, and Ernest Borgnine. So absolutely no pressure there, right?
The show at Charing Cross theatre is staged in a traverse staging, which by default requires actors to perfect the movement choreography, to cater to audiences from both sides of the stage. The set is deceptively bare, with 2 palm trees in the corners and a set of black trunks in the middle. As the play unfolds, the set uncovers some secrets, like hidden compartments and floor projections. Trunks are treated like pieces of the puzzle and become connected into various forms, to create a bed, desk or stones.
Altogether, it works in favour of the viewers imagining some elements of the performance rather than being served all the visuals on a silver platter – something I appreciate a lot.
Light design plays a huge role here and creates a stunning atmosphere of a tropical paradise – especially in a scene on the beach, projections on the floor create such a realistic scenery, without a grain of sand or a splash of water. The colours are mastered to perfection, with the morning sun looking different than the middle of the day beach light. Hats off to the lighting designer Adam King and projection designer Louise Rhoades-Brown.
The play starts on an impressive note: during ” G Company Blues” (what a catchy tune!) the actors do push-ups and jog around the stage, controlling their breath as they sing on tune. The cast made it look effortless, while I’m sure there was so much hard work behind the scenes that went into building stamina, controlling breath work and staging the scene. One of the most spectacular opening numbers I’ve seen. The whole show is extremely physically demanding, with a mix of boxing, military drill and fights, in between the dance numbers.
The casting for this production, especially voice-wise, was spot-on. The harmonies of the whole cast just work so well and suit the young, refreshed version of the score. As I compare it with the recording of the original London cast from years ago (available on Spotify), the 2022 version seems to include younger, slightly more varied voices and music that includes less classic musical elements, and more of 2020s pop/rock, jazz and blues vibes. I prefer this most recent rendition, and can’t wait for a cast recording to release.
The lead heroines of “From Here to Eternity” are written in a way that, even though the action is set in the 40s, felt incredibly relatable. The ladies are (for most of the time) showcased as strong and not easily swayed by emotions – like the stunning Lorene (Desmonda Cathabel), who chooses to become a prostitute and sees it as a part of her future life-building. It all changes by the end of the play, when both Lorene and, married to captain but infatuated with another man, Karen (Carley Stenson) follow their hearts instead of minds – I was hoping the story will avoid the cliches, but was left disappointed.
That’s when I get to my main letdown of “From Here to Eternity”: the script, especially in the second act, just doesn’t deliver. There are so many events happening, so many fights, that cramming them info a play just doesn’t seem to work. Characters come and go, but they don’t get enough stage time and emotional depth for the audience to care about their fate. In the second act I found myself barely noticing who the person who committed suicide was, and for a while, didn’t even comprehend why he killed himself. The identical uniforms worn by most of the cast don’t make it easier too – the stage is filled with good-looking soldiers of similar heights, and as I was sitting in one of the back rows, identification of actors was in many cases possible only because of stellar, strong voices of the cast.
“From Here to Eternity” delights through its music scores, and manages to end with a powerful, carefully constructed, touching note. It also feels incredibly modern for a 1940’s story!
“From Here to Eternity” – Charing Cross Theatre
29 October – 17 December 2022
Cast includes Jonny Amies, Jonathon Bentley, Desmonda Cathabel, Leonard Cook, Kyerron Dixon-Bassey, Sarah Drake, Dominic Adam Griffin, Cassius Hackforth, Robin Hayward, Callum Henderson, James Mateo-Salt, Rhys Nuttall, Jack Ofrecio, Jaden Oshenye, Eve Polycarpou, Adam Rhys-Charles, Carley Stenson, Alan Turkington and Joseph Vella.
Director – Brett Smock
Set & Costume Designer – Stewart J Charlesworth
Musical Director, Orchestrations and New Musical Arrangements – Nick J Barstow
Choreographer – Cressida Carré
Lighting Designer – Adam King
Projection Designer – Louise Rhodes-Brown
Fight Director & Intimacy Coach – Renny Krupinski
Costume Supervisor – Lucy Lawless
Casting Director – Jane Deitch
Production Manager – James Anderton
Produced by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment, Bill Kenwright and Heartaches Limited
General Management by Chris Matanlé