REVIEW: From Here to Eternity, Shaftesbury Theatre (2013-2014)

This musical which made its world premiere in the West End in 2013 deserved a much longer run than it received.

Based on the novel by James Jones as opposed to the film, this powerful and raw musical featuring music by Stuart Brayson and lyrics by Tim Rice offers a gritty insight into military life – including attitudes towards homosexuality in the army, prostitution, bullying and the impact of war.

Set in 1941 at army barracks in Hawaii during the months leading up to the events of Pearl Harbor, From Here to the Eternity follows the love affairs of Sergeant Milt Warden, who begins an affair with his captain’s wife Karen and Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt who falls in love with prostitute Lorene. But of course not everything runs smoothly and soon the story becomes more about yearning and fleetingness of romance that is heartbreaking to watch unfold.

Tamara Harvey’s gritty and sexy production is filled with plenty of powerful moments – not least in the way the attitude towards homosexuality at that time is so vividly portrayed to heartbreaking effect. It plays out like a subtle drama, but given heaps of atmosphere thanks to Soutra Gilmour’s designs and projections that sweep the audience effectively back to the 1940’s. But equally, it is a production that really enhances the raw emotion of characters as highlighted through the way in which Maggio’s (Ryan Sampson) solo number ‘I Love the Army’ is strikingly presented and captures the audience’s attention.

Stuart Brayson’s score features a wonderful range of styles that reflect the era well – not least songs such as the cool and sophisticated sounding ‘ Ain’t Where I Want to Be Blues’, the bold and brash ‘You Got the Money’ and the gorgeous ‘More Than America’. Tim Rice’s lyrics meanwhile really gets to the heart of the characters and their emotions, particularly during ‘Another Language’ and ‘Run Along Joe’.

Yes perhaps the book by Bill Oakes could have handled the love stories between the couples with a bit more delicacy – with the way in which Darious Campbell’s Warden crudely propositions the married Karen proving to be particularly uncomfortable. It is difficult to get a real sense of why these characters are attracted to each other – despite the warm chemistry that all four central cast members provide. But on the other side of this, it offers a frank and honest portrayal of military life – highlighted to beautiful effect during the final scenes as the imaginative and powerful choreography of Javier De Frutos captures the battle of Pearl Harbor to haunting effect.

In terms of performances, Ryan Sampson’s cheeky and loyal Maggio who is horrifically bullied and Rebecca Thornhill’s strong and resilient Karen are two particular standouts. Both offer a rawness in their performances that is heartbreaking if mesmerising to watch. Darius Campbell is suitably commanding and strong as Warden, Siubhan Harrison is suitably feisty and playful as Lorene – a great match for Robert Lonsdale’s stubborn Prewitt.

Overall, this was a beautiful West End musical and so refreshing to watch on stage – it deserved a longer run than it got. A beautiful and powerful musical experience.

By Emma Clarendon

From Here to Eternity is available to watch through Broadway HD.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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