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FringeReview UK 2022

From Here to Eternity

Aria Entertainment, Bill Kenwright and Heartache Limited

Genre: Adaptation, Costume, LGBT, Live Music, Mainstream Theatre, Musical Theatre, Theatre

Venue: Charing Cross Theatre


Low Down

From the novel by James Jones, Lyrics by Tim Rice, Music by Stuart Brayson, Book by Donald Rice and Bill Oakes .

Directed by Brett Shock, Set and Costume design Stewart J. Charlesworth, Choreographer Cressida Carré, Musical Director Orchestrations and new Musical Arrangements Nick Barstow.

Lighting Designer Adam King, Sound Designer Chris Murray, Projection Designer Louise Rhoades-Brown, Fight Director and Intimacy Coach Renny Krupinski,

Production Manager James Anderton, Casting Director Jane Deitch, Costumer Supervisor Lucy Lawless, Production Co-ordinator Ollie Hancock, General Manager Chris Matanlé.

Marketing Emma Martin Marketing, Sales and Ticketing Consultant Tommy Luck, PR Kevin Wilson PR.

Till December 17th


Life is first boredom, then fear. November-December 1941. Not so much a day but a week ‘that will live in infamy’ – FD Roosevelt’s clarion words for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7th. What of the days leading up to that? Not so boring.

From Here to Eternity was famously adapted for film in 1953 from the novel by James Jones, with that beach scene entwining Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster. Adapted though. And 1953. So much was left out. And the musical – lyrics Tim Rice, music Stuart Brayson, Book by Donald Rice and Bill Oakes – takes us back to that novel; finds it far edgier and more contemporary: rub off the silver screen patina, gay and other themes emerge. There’s no hint of the dreary musakation of a film/best-seller. Indeed, this sells back the original.

Originally premiered at the Shaftesbury in 2013, here with an added song and a new production at the diminutive stage of Charing Cross Theatre, this musical blazes with life, sex, ensemble and boots marking time on the ground.

The stamina of all concerned – men singing whilst doing press-ups – is phenomenal in itself. Alongside some well-known names new talent proclaim stars in the ascendant. Directed by Brett Shock, the set and costume design by Stewart J. Charlesworth is a miracle of economy on a tiny stage, with stage-efficient shifting of army boxes as props from desk to bunk-beds to concrete weights. Period dress is khaki blazoned with women’s dresses and civilian wear – they make an impression in a space where most room’s given to seating, and Cressida Carré’s choreography ripples with muscle and colour.

Special mention though for Adam King’s lighting, which not only effects stripes, strobes with tenebrous black-outs and freezes, but at one moment an extraordinarily effective use of lighted names on walls and stage, as if on an army memorial; as well as stamping each succeeding day and date on beams above, an unobtrusive surtitle. There’s seamless transitions to Louise Rhoades-Brown’s video design too, both enfolding the sea and much else on a screen, and atmospherically-coated footage.

More clearly, the storyline frames two couples, both in a sense illicit, and hostility and tenderness between men. Jonathon Bentley’s career soldier, champion boxer and best army bugler Private Prewitt stumbles into a hostile patrol on the evening following the attack. He’s challenged, bizarrely, as spy and deserter. Rewind back ten days and we find him transferred to G Company, refusing to box in an upcoming fight because (we learn) he blinded a man, incurring sympathy from empathic Sergeant Warden (Adam Rhys-Charles) who knows him, and fury from Captain Holmes (Alan Turkington), who craves promotion: the trophy’s his Major’s ticket.

Prewitt’s singled for special treatment by sadistic Sergeants Judson (Leonard Cook) and Galovitch (Rhys Nuttall); the latter beats him up when he refuses to fight. Judson though is as murderous as Billy Budd’s Claggart.

Holmes’ wife Karen (Carley Stenson) and Warren are secretly having an affair (her husband’s STD has caused complications and repulsion), Prewitt is in love with prostitute Lorene (Desmonda Cathabel), in a brothel run by tough-tender-tough  Mrs Kipfer (Eve Polycarpou). This storyline in such a small theatre packs a huge punch, and the second act in particular is overwhelming.

The musical follows the film in conflating larky Italian wit Maggio (Jonny Amies) with another tragic character, but retains Corporal Bloom (Jack Olfrecio) within the theme of the army cracking down on ‘practising homosexual’ incidents and safe houses. There’s much bonding and mute understanding between Prewitt (despite himself) and Maggio.

Nick Barstow’s musical arrangements and orchestrations are frankly overpowering – there’s much use of military-sounding trumpets in the score, blending with jazzy melancholy. It’s fitting though inevitably thunderous (sound designer Chris Murray can do little but even out the impact).

Rice’s lyrics are superb: he manages the brutal memorability of ‘G Company’ and ‘Thirty Year Man’ with economy and stamp. Bentley’s Prewitt makes a keen impression in the latter, with Amies and others, and both, particularly ‘Thirty Year Man’ have a nagging memorability – indeed ‘Thirty Year Man’ is the most instantly memorable, even if one or two others take longer to go further. Only in ‘From Here to Eternity’ itself does an ensemble number perhaps blossom unevenly on reheat.

Earworms are less present in some solo numbers in Karen’s ‘More to Life Than This’ with Stenson beguiling and memorable herself, in a spotlit exposure where all she lacks is a nailing tune in. a perfectly acceptable. She gets luckily more chances than this too. Similarly the charismatic, more empathic than gruff Warden Rhys-Charles exudes in ‘At Ease’ yields a very tenor in a number that can fade.

Polycarpou as Mrs Kipfer though utterly nails the new song ‘I Know What You Came For’ in knowing period character. Her presence and the song’s sharper outlines raises the whole musical a notch, and she leads in the valedictory ‘The Boys Of ‘41’ where Stenson and Cathabel shine too – it’s a generous trio allowing female witness to a crazed male world.

Cathabel shows her gleaming vocal power in ‘Love Me Forever Today’ with Bentley, and in particular one of the most memorable solos, the bittersweet ‘Run Along Joe’; a dismissal that latterly melts into love where you see Cathabel’s vocal tessitura as well as acting firmly in orbit above us. Stenson too is given the bitingly elegiac ‘I’ll Remember the Day’ with its swerve of goodbyes, signalling that musical theatre’s her home.

Bentley’s superb too in ‘Ain’t Where I Want To Be’ a naggingly syncopated ensemble number with Amies and Rhys-Charles. Amies though ups musical quality in the magnificently rancid ‘I Love the Army’ with its sudden twist as Maggio contemplates the army trying to annihilate him. Its refrain is one of the most treasurable things in this musical.

Bentley picks up on that energy too in the literally punchy ‘Fight the Fight’ and finally in a very different number: the floaty ‘Almost Perfect Lie’ where Bentley‘s top-notes and lyricism are given heightened affect, a time-stopped moment to flower in this tight acoustic. The ending really shows how this musical’s flourished from a punchy if occasionally bitty-seeming first half to the unstoppable power and sucker-punches delivered blow after blow in the second, which raises the stature of this work to something special.

There’s fine ensemble too from named characters Williams (Kyerron Dixon-Bassey), Sarah Drake (Ensemble), Riggs/Dance Captain (Dominic Adam Griffin), Montello (Cassius Hackforth), Tucker (Robin Hayward), Clark/Fight Captain (Callum Henderson) Anderson ((James Mateo-Salt), Byrd (Jaden Oshenye), Ruiz (Joseph Vella).

Given this space and exposure, here’s much to praise in Renny Krupinski’s fight/intimacy direction, fist-in-glove with Carré’s choreography.

Polycarpou invests authority, presence and power in Mrs Kipfer that makes this new version even more worth seeing, and in newcomer Sondheim-Award-winning Cathabel we can see one soaring talent and another, Stenson confirming her direction after a stint in Les Mis. Bentley – already notching an impressive portfolio – brings character and pathos to his complex role. Amies’ equally characterful vocals seem destined for memorable things too in a song that pivots the whole musical;  and Rhys-Charles’ ardent lyricism exudes lead-tenor status.

Even if From Here to Eternity starts loud and perhaps overwhelms, even occasionally underwhelms, it grabs you from towards the close of Act One and doesn’t let go: from here to curtain we’re in heart-stopping eternity.