From Here To Eternity ★★★★★

From Here To Eternity started as a novel and became an film. And now it returns to Charing Cross Theatre as a gritty musical that packs a punch!

If From Here To Eternity only conjures up images of Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster’s risqué roll in the waves from the 1953, then you better brace yourself for Stuart Brayson and Tim Rice’s 2013 musical of the same name. 

Very much a grown-up musical that restores the grit of James Jones’ 1951 novel, its original 6-month West End run in at the Shaftesbury Theatre always felt as if it closed too soon. One of those potentially great musicals that got away.  

All images by Alex Brenner

So it was welcome news that Aria Entertainment was reviving and reworking From Here To Eternity for the more intimate space of Charing Cross Theatre. We’re delighted to say the musical which tackles subjects as gay men in the military, prostitution, officially-sanctioned bullying and the brutalising effects of war has lost none of its edge.

In fact, the smaller space enhances the feeling of the Schofield barracks in the American military base in Hawaii being a pressure cooker. Covering an eventful two-week period leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, we are cheek-by-jowl with the soldiers of G-company as they exercise (if you like your musical with singing sit-ups, this is the show for you!), train and endlessly wait for war.  From the opening number G Company Blues, you get the sense you are in very safe hands. Spectacular singing, precision choreography and well-pitched performances from the incredibly hard-working ensemble convey quite how much director Brett Smock and choreographer Cressida Carré have put them through their paces.

The production runs like a well-oiled machine. We’ve seen small casts look cramped on the Charing Cross stage but designer Stewart Charlesworth‘s necessarily minimal but inventive and evocative set (coupled with Adam King‘s slick lighting design and Louise Rhoades-Brown sparingly-deployed projections) always helps facilitate the action. Framed on the diagonal by two palm trees, concrete girders and stage platform reinforce the inflexibility of army life. The design team have done a stunning, imaginative job in creating a world where the stories can unfold.

Donald Rice and Bill Oakes‘ book weaves various narrative threads as the calendar ticks down towards the fateful 7th of December. Prewitt (Jonathon Bentley) is a talented private from Kentucky drafted into G-company to boost the regimental boxing team – except he refuses to fight having blinded a fellow soldier in a previous match. He then falls in love with Loreen (Desmonda Cathabel), a prostitute at a local brothel. Both performers are blessed with great voices, particularly showcased in the beautiful harmonies of Love Me Forever Today.

Elsewhere First Sergeant Milt Warden (Adam Rhys-Charles) has been having an affair with his superior Officer’s wife Karen (Carley Stenson). Rhys-Charles’ gorgeous baritone lends itself to the smoky jazz of new song At Ease

Jonny Amies is outstanding as Maggio, the American-Italian cheeky-chappie of the platoon who has a side hustle facilitating gay nightlife. The conformist brutality of the army system takes this endearing kid from Act One and methodically destroying him utterly is a powerful journey. Amies wrings every  heartbreaking note from the embittered, cynical anthem I Love The Army. 

Eve Polycarpou as the hard-faced, straight-talking madam (think Mama Morton with a brothel) has a show-stealing new number I Know What You Came For. She manages to be both hilarious and terrifying. Alan Turkington gives nuance to his inflexible and unsatisfied Captain Holmes (the show’s curiously non-singing role). 

From Here To Eternity is a welcome darker antidote to the increasing prevalence of light and lighthearted musical currently filling the West End. Brayson and Rice’s catchy, melodic score is a deft mixtures of styles, each of which propels you towards the soaring, stirring finale. 

The show has that dark, emotional energy of a Blood Brothers. There’s something particularly poignant about having such a young, twinkly-eyed cast playing “the boys of ’41”. The tragic ending is in sight from the off but that’s not the point. Audiences go through the emotional ringer and emerge blinking, exhausted and red-eyed into the West End knowing that they’ve experienced something special. 

This production of From Here To Eternity offers slick staging, a cast with talent to burn, a gorgeous score and packs an emotional punch. If a musical with grit is your thing, get from here to the Charing Cross Box Office. 

A serious score for a seriously good production ★★ (5 stars)

From Here To Eternity Tickets

From Here To Eternity runs at Charing Cross Theatre until  17 December.

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