FROM HERE TO ETERNITY – Shaftesbury Theatre WC2

HURTLING HUNKS AND DEATH BY BLUES

God, I hate star ratings!  Even when, as here, rebelliously expressed as mice.  For nearly three hours the fourth one hovered uncertainly, annoyingly,   over Tim Rice’s bravely enormous new show and Stuart Brayson’s music,  as it veered between grand moments and some pretty standard “song-that-goes-like-this” numbers.  Can’t pretend that a classic was born,  but neither is it dismissable.  Big money and big courage sometimes pay off.

Rice’s admirable aim was to forget the 1953 movie with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling in the surf ,  and exhume the even bleaker bones of James Jones’ angry novel about the bored brutalities of the US military garrison on Hawaii  just  before the 1941 raid on Pearl Harbour.  He pulls no punches,  restoring Jones’ account – too shocking for Hollywood – of soldiers “rolling the queers” in the gay club to raise money for their own brothel-crawling.    Its title is bitterly drawn from Kipling’s poem about disillusioned NCOs:  “done with hope and honour, lost to love and truth” .

There are two love affairs:  Sgt Warden (Darius Campbell, aka Danesh) falls for Karen, the commander’s wife while the damaged, cynical  Prewitt  (Robert Lonsdale) finds a deep connection with a local whore,  after being mercilessly beasted for refusing  to box for the honour of G company.   His friendship with the irrepressible tragic Latino Angelo (Ryan Sampson, engaging in the extreme) is the third emotional sinew of the story.

But the energy of it comes from the military:  a  tsunami of testosterone, a male ensemble drilled (it is rumoured) by a real sergeant-major until not a twitch of camp can remain in their manner.   Javier de Frutos shapes them into a masterpiece of dramatic choreography which  I have rarely seen equalled.  The stage is full of hurtling hunks:  pushups and star jumps, hula-moves and brawls, larking or lovemaking, the khaki whirlwind dominate the action.  Whether in stand-by-your-beds or beat-up-a-brothel routines they are breathtaking.  So are the girls they whirl and hurl around a restrainedly evocative  set by Soutra Gilmour.  Bruno Poet does the lights, and Brayson’s music gets rich orchestrations under David White. Nothing has been spared.

But it’s a musical,  and must justify itself by songs.  Some are fine (the fourth star-mouse finally landed during the finale, with “slaughter from the sky, fire in the sea” and a hymn to The Boys of ’41).  Campbell’s grainy, savagely virile voice is well used in “More than America” and less well in love duets (though Rebecca Thornhill’s gorgeously sexy Karen more than makes up for that).  Prewitt has one magnificent anthem “Fight the Fight”, and does it full justice; the two men doing the “Ain’t where I wanna be blues” are perfect.     But Tim Rice’s fatal fondness for over-jangly rhymes too often weakens the lyrics:   some are plain banal.  “She’s untouchable, a princess, and a whore / But I just see a beauty at my door” Please!

On the other hand the tarts‘ song “You got the money, we got the ass”  is splendid.  I went home singing it. Got some odd looks on the train.

box office  0207 492 1532    to 26 April
Rating :  four   4 Meece Rating

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