×

West End Review: ‘From Here to Eternity’

New musical from lyricist-producer Tim Rice is too thin to generate interest, much less any beach-rolling heat

With:

Robert Lonsdale, Darius Campbell, Rebecca Thornhill, Siubhan Harrison, Ryan Sampson, Martin Marquez, Christine Allado, Keisha Amponsa Banson, Marc Antolin, Julie Armstrong, James Ballanger, John Brannoch, Abigail Climer, Brian Doherty, Shimi Goodman, Kirby Hughes, Dean John-Wilson, Joshua Lacey, Carolyn Maitland, Yivtach Mizrahi, Nuno Queimado, Lucinda Shaw, Warren Sollars, David Stoller, Rebecca Sutherland, Laurer Tyrer, Lauren Vanham, Adam Vaughan, Stephen Webb.

Impressively stylized choreography and punchy lighting cues ignite “G Company Blues,” the opening number of lyricist-producer Tim Rice’s new tuner “From Here To Eternity.” Surprising though its expressive dynamism is, the sad news is that it’s downhill from there. Helmer Tamara Harvey sends in the troops of a notably well-synced creative team, but although their vigorous attacks create impact, they cannot sustain tension when book, music and lyrics are so thin. “Maybe,” announces one of Rice’s lyrics, “we’ve come to the conclusion we’re nothing special.” Indeed. 

The show is adapted not from the celebrated movie but James Jones’ original warts-‘n’-all novel about the brutality of military life in the run-up to Pearl Harbor. The latest edition weighs in at 864 pages — that’s a lot of plot, which most tuners tend to do badly.

In his West End debut, bookwriter Bill Oakes never solves the problem of how best to drive the stage story, not to mention: Which story? There’s principled Private Prewitt (Robert Lonsdale) suffering beneath the leadership of corrupt Captain Holmes (Martin Marquez). Then there’s Prewitt’s relationship with love interest Lorene (Siubhan Harrison). And there’s First Sergeant Warden (Darius Campbell) and his love interest Karen (Rebecca Thornhill), who’s married to Holmes. All that, plus the comic ministrations of wise-guy Private Maggio.

With all those lead characters plus their plots to juggle, as well as the creaky reintroduction of a sub-plot about closeted gay sexuality (cut by the publishers from the original novel), the (in)action keeps flitting between stories rather than building a head of steam. Since everyone gets predictable, over-emoted “I feel” songs, there’s perilously little time to create actual drama. In one neatly staged scene, everyone is writing (and singing) their postcards home. Alas, you need little more than a postcard on which to write the dialogue for most scenes.

Popular on Variety

The result is that characters seem to speak treatments rather than a finished script. Positions are so baldly stated and desires so easily voiced that it’s hard to care. Matters aren’t helped by one-dimensional characters. Ryan Sampson’s Maggio is a tiny dynamo and Thornhill is defiant as embittered Karen, but she has to do twice her work because Campbell’s wooden Warden generates a swaggering, resonant bass-baritone but absolutely no heat. In both the book and the film, Prewitt is affectingly driven to the limits of his sanity. Handsome but underpowered Robert Lonsdale just looks like he’s been shouted at to do a few more push-ups.

Designer Soutra Gilmour works wonders with series of drops — blinds for an office, slash curtains for the prostitutes’ club — swiftly redefining the space framed by vistas of crumbling proscenium arches. Bruno Poet’s lighting creates contrasting atmospheres and continually sets up and punctuates individual moments, while Kate Waters’ highly convincing fight scenes and Harvey’s fully theatrical handling of the Japanese bombing are as effective as they are bold. Yet as the lengthy second half wears on, it’s ever clearer that the team is working overtime to make something theatrical out of writing that is undramatic.

That certainly includes the music, for which David White’s evocative orchestrations and hugely satisfying vocal arrangements, replete with rich harmonic clusters, cover anodyne songwriting. Debuting West End composer Stuart Brayson can knock out generic blues numbers, a swing number, a stentorian march and interchangeable plaintive ballads. Yet even though Prewitt repeatedly sings of the need to find “my own voice,” that’s exactly what Brayson’s music lacks.

Furthermore, you don’t have to be Sondheim to find yourself wishing that, instead of standing still, a number might move either audiences or a character in some direction, to illustrate a change of heart, a developing idea or even simply to raise the temperature. Almost all merely underline the obvious, aided by generalized lyrics, one of which ends (with several reprises) by rhyming knowing “who you are” with the tired “might as well reach for a star.”

Quoting another of the lyrics, a stronger producer might have said “It’s all too easy” and urged the lyricist to try harder, but in this case the producer and lyricist are one and the same. Rice (“The Lion King,” “Evita,” “Jesus Christ Superstar”) has deep enough pockets for this costly show — with a band of 15 and a cast of 29, all of whom would benefit from a crisper sound design. With no star performers and only a 60-year-old title and his name to sell the musical, he’s going to need them. When was the last time anyone booked a ticket on the basis of a lyricist?

West End Review: 'From Here to Eternity'

Shaftesbury Theater, London; 1,306 seats; £67.50, $109 top. Opened Oct 23, 2013 reviewed Oct. 22. Running time: 2 HOURS, 45 MIN.

Production:

A Tim Rice and Lee Menzies for Eternity Productions Limited presentation of a musical in two acts, book by Bill Oakes based on the novel by James Jones, music by Stuart Brayson, lyrics by Rice. 

Creative:

Directed by Tamara Harvey. Choreography, Javier de Frutos. Musical direction, supervision and orchestration, David White. Sets and costumes, Soutra Gilmour; lighting, Bruno Poet; sound, Mick Potter, projections, Jon Driscoll; production stage manager, John Caswell.

Cast:

Robert Lonsdale, Darius Campbell, Rebecca Thornhill, Siubhan Harrison, Ryan Sampson, Martin Marquez, Christine Allado, Keisha Amponsa Banson, Marc Antolin, Julie Armstrong, James Ballanger, John Brannoch, Abigail Climer, Brian Doherty, Shimi Goodman, Kirby Hughes, Dean John-Wilson, Joshua Lacey, Carolyn Maitland, Yivtach Mizrahi, Nuno Queimado, Lucinda Shaw, Warren Sollars, David Stoller, Rebecca Sutherland, Laurer Tyrer, Lauren Vanham, Adam Vaughan, Stephen Webb.

More Legit

  • The Prince of Egypt review

    'The Prince of Egypt': Theater Review

    In “The Prince of Egypt,” a swords-and-sandals epic minus the swords, no one speaks, they declaim; no one questions, they implore to the heavens. In a musical re-telling of the Exodus story that is bigger on plagues than on developed characterization, subtlety was always going to be in short supply. But did everything have to [...]

  • Katori Hall

    Listen: Katori Hall's 'Quiet Revolution'

    Playwright Katori Hall’s latest, “The Hot Wing King,” centers on a group of black gay men — a community so rarely depicted onstage in the theater that she can’t think of another example. Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below: Which means there’s real power just to see them represented. “Because there aren’t a ton of images [...]

  • Cirque Du Soleil Volta

    Volta: Cirque Du Soleil’s Latest Blends Themes of Self-Discovery with Street Sports

    Blending themes of loneliness, isolation and self-discovery with the magnetic culture of street sports, Cirque du Soleil’s latest iteration, “Volta,” is an eye-popping and psychically soothing spiritual journey experienced through a prism of jaw-dropping acrobatics and aerodynamics that leave one gasping for breath. The Montreal-based entertainment company has produced a steady string of awe-inspiring shows [...]

  • Cambodian Rock Band review

    'Cambodian Rock Band': Theater Review

    Is there anything less politically threatening than a rock band jamming to its own vibrant music? Tell that to the Khmer Rouge, which descended on Cambodia in 1975 and killed off some three million people, including many musicians. In Lauren Yee’s play “Cambodian Rock Band,” the doomed, fictional band Cyclo is represented by actor-musicians with [...]

  • Protesters demonstrate at the Broadway opening

    'West Side Story' Broadway Opening Night Sparks Protests

    Roughly 100 protestors gathered outside the Broadway premiere of “West Side Story” on Thursday night, carrying placards and chanting in unison to demand the removal of cast member Amar Ramasar. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ramasar has got to go,” they cried while holding signs that read “Keep predators off the stage,” “Sexual predators shouldn’t get [...]

  • West Side Story review

    'West Side Story': Theater Review

    Whittled down to one hour and forty-five minutes, “West Side Story” – with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins — has grown exceedingly dark and mislaid some of its moving parts in the new Broadway revival from edgy Belgian director Ivo Van Hove. (Can [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Closing in March After Box Office Struggles

    “The Inheritance,” a sprawling and ambitious epic that grappled with the legacy of the AIDS epidemic, will close on March 15. The two-part play has struggled mightily at the box office despite receiving strong reviews. Last week, it grossed $345,984, or 52% of its capacity, a dispiriting number for a show that was reported to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content