A fortnight before Pearl Harbor, the army boys jostle, thousands of miles from the action, in the apparent backwater of Hawaii. With enough testosterone about to fill the port itself, all that pent-up energy is shifted to events such as regimental boxing tournaments, which have taken on an almost fetishistic significance for the higher-ups – much like the patterns of tight bombardment of Colonel Cathcart in catch 22. Private Prewitt (Jonathon Bentley, pictured above with Desmonda Cathabel), a peerless pugilist, is drafted into this bubbling cauldron by Captain Holmes to offer G Company the victory he believes will get him the promotion he wants – but Prewitt won’t fight. not after blinding an opponent in the ring. Meanwhile, Holmes’ wife, Karen, is carrying on an affair with her aide-de-camp, First Sergeant Warden, and Prewitt is romantically involved with the local sex worker, Lorene. Suicide decisions are made as real suicide bombers prepare for the infamous sneak attack.
The excellent score (played, a bit too loudly, by Nick Barstow’s five-piece band), features melodies inflected by rock, pop, blues and swing, and is performed beautifully by the cast. Adam Rhys-Charles stands out as Warden, moving and distraught with his second opening act, “Ain’t Where I Want To Be Blues.” Recent graduate Desmonda Cathabel captures the sex worker’s nihilistic worldview with Lorene’s “Run Along, Joe,” contrasting Eve Polycarpou’s “I Know What You Came For.” Best of the lot is bittersweet and heartbreaking “I Love the Army” by Jonny Amies, showing that despite all the creeping danger, appalling treatment by officers and mind-numbing boredom, military life offers a sense of belonging that Civvy Street couldn’t match, even for Maggio, a hustling queer (as the script goes) relentlessly bullied.
But the show has its issues. Donald Rice and Bill Oakes reworked the book for this new production, but it still doesn’t quite work out. The side romances never kick in – Karen seems content with Warden as the best of a bad bunch, more hunted by her hideous husband, Captain Holmes, than attracted to her assistant. Without riding in the waves, it’s all a bit half-hearted. Likewise, Prewitt and Lorene don’t have enough time to develop the passion that leads to their life-or-death dilemma – you can’t achieve chemistry if you barely heat the mixture.
Director Brett Smock also prioritizes not-quite-at-war men’s frustration and sadism over romances. With most of the action taking place inside the dark and drab barracks on a largely bare stage in the round, we really could be anywhere. There is little evocation of The Exotic, The Tropical, The Other (so brilliantly done in South Pacific, for example), neither as a place of transgression nor as an engine of boredom – we could as well have been in Passchendaele as in Pearl Harbour. And I haven’t seen so many white cotton Y-fronts since the last time I darkened the doors of Marks and Spencer!
There’s a better musical to be built on these songs, one less on generic kicking squads, and more on how temptations can be heightened in the theater of war. As is, From here to eternity never make up your mind – this is not an anti-war statement, not a tale of forbidden romances and not a lyrical tragedy of epic proportions. It only really finds its feet in a sensational evocation of the tumultuous attack itself – but, by then, it’s all over but the dying.