Tim Rice’s much anticipated new West End musical opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre in late October 2013 and has had no problem selling tickets, especially over the Christmas and New Year period. From Here to Eternity is based on a novel of the same name written by James Jones and published in 1951. A bestseller, the original novel was also adapted into a successful film. Rice’s involvement appears to have been the key impetus behind much of the anticipation, especially as the renowned lyricist has been rather quiet of late in terms of public work.
Set over a couple of months in 1941 at U.S. barracks in Hawaii, the story follows several members of G Company, including Captain Dana ‘Dynamite’ Holmes and First Sergeant Milt Warden, who begins an affair with Holmes’ wife Karen. At the heart of the tale lies a struggle between former bugler Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt, an infantryman from Kentucky and career soldier, and his superiors.
Filled with the typical mix of rousing and more reflective songs, this musical version of From Here to Eternity has a good go at presenting a show which will appeal to typical West End audiences. The choreography has a familiar look to it too, not doing anything out of the ordinary but rather aiming to satisfy standard expectations of a musical. So, there are probably less entertaining ways to spend an evening.
However, taking into account the high hopes for this musical, overall it is disappointing and dissatisfying. None of the songs are memorable, although Rice’s hand can definitely be detected (perhaps part of the problem, since the whole thing comes across as formulaic). The storyline is sleazy and immoral, which audiences should know to expect, but which does not leave a pleasant taste by the end and leaves the audience unmoved. Jones’s original manuscript was heavily censored by his publisher and the unexpurgated version was not published until 2011, which is the point at which the stage rights for this adaptation were purchased. One can’t help wondering if the censored version might be preferable; gritty realism and strong language are fine, but the unrelenting focus on sex gets boring, and the nudity in particular tips over into gratuitous and unnecessary at a couple of points in this adaptation.
The role of Warden is taken by Darius Campbell, he of Pop Idol fame, and his part is one of the only saving graces of From Here to Eternity. (Darius was the one who became infamous for cheesy statements such as ‘Can you feel the love in the room?’ and a cringeworthy version of Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby One More Time, but he ultimately did well and took third place due to a great voice and being a genuinely nice guy.) The boy can sing, really sing. He is also easy on the eye and has a very imposing stature, giving him significant stage presence and power. It appears these facts are still not lost on a loyal fan base, since no sooner was the end reached than a group of girls in the audience began screaming ‘WE LOVE YOU DARIUS’.
By the end, and it was hard to stay with it and keep concentration at times, the messages appeared to be that duty and morals, including marital duty, count for nothing if you’re in love, or it’s wartime. It’s difficult to care about the dilemmas of any of the characters, since they aren’t presented in any depth or as anything more than fools with little conscience. Neither is it a hedonistic riot to be enjoyed on a different level; the overlying real stories of Pearl Harbor and the dramatic reconstructions of soldiers dying in the raid prevent this from being possible. From Here to Eternity is unlikely to last for as long as its name might suggest, but Tim Rice’s involvement and Darius Campbell’s talent will carry the show for a decent West End run at least.