From Here to Eternity is loudly being billed as "Tim Rice's epic new musical", which may be the first time in musical theatre history that a lyricist has got top billing, though it is a neat riposte to all those musicals by his former writing partner Andrew Lloyd Webber where the latter's billing wipes out all other creative contributions to a supporting role. But Rice is also unquestionably this show's biggest star, either behind the curtain or in front of it.
Interviewed last year about the state of British musicals, Tim Rice commented, "The crisis is not with performers, it's with new writers. All the British guys who have written successful, good new musicals in the last 20 years have been getting on a bit. There's Elton [John] and Andrew and I, but where are all the young guys? Now he's putting his money, in every sense (he's also above the title as lead co-producer of the show with Lee Menzies), where his mouth is, and backing one of those younger guys: while it is his own first brand-new show in 13 years, the composer Stuart Brayson is making his West End debut, with only a couple of previous efforts produced in Liverpool and Blackpool.
Together, however, they are not the new Lloyd Webber and Rice, let alone the new Rodgers and Hammerstein whose South Pacific this regularly reminds you of, but can't come near to matching. Both musicals are based on wartime autobiographical novels (by James Michener for South Pacific and James Jones for From Here to Eternity), and both set on US military bases stationed on islands where the men are waiting to go into action.
While the earlier show, premiered just four years after the Second World War ended, has an authentic flavour full of R&H's characteristic throbbing romanticism that drenches it in feeling as well as delight, From Here to Eternity strives for something even more earnest and gritty. But Bill Oakes -- a former record executive, producer and musical supervisor turned screenwriter and book writer now -- doesn't bind the competing strands of its narrative that follows three soldiers into something truly compelling.
There's lots of incident triggered by a series of military insubordinations, from one soldier who is working the local gay bar for financial favours (in the case of Ryan Sampson's diminutive Private Angelo Maggio) while another (Darius Campbell's oddly wooden Mit Warden) embarks on a dangerous affair with his platoon sergeant's wife, and one more (Robert Lonsdale's brooding Private Robert E Lee Prewitt) falls in love with a local prostitute. The show also duly requires an endless range of locations, neatly conjured in Soutra Gilmour's design, but key moments (like the one best known from the 1953 movie version of a sex scene on the beach or the Japanese attack on the island) depend on Jon Driscoll's video design, which feels a bit clunky.
But then the chunky (nearly three hour) show is, for all its arresting sense of scale, strangely dull. Despite all that incident, nothing much happens for nearly two hours, until the attack on Pearl Harbour finally arrives to finally give it real dramatic purpose. Still, there are some compensating pleasures. Bryson's score is as atmospherically layered as the design -- you could come out singing both -- and played with fierce commitment under orchestrator/musical supervisor David White and Tom Deering's musical direction, heavy on brass and ukulele rather than strings.
Javier de Frutos's typically muscular choreography lends it an appealingly masculine bravura, and the massive company of 33 give it their all (and sometimes a bit too much).
"This isn’t a major musical to rival South Pacific but in a West End awash with shows for kids and kidults it dares to speak to our inner grown-up about frustrated yearning, fleeting romance and pluck. "
Dominic Cavendish for Daily Telegraph
"...The show, however, is executed with considerable skill. Brayson's score encompasses a variety of styles including military chorales, Hawaiian hula routines and bluesy solos. "
Michael Billington for The Guardian
" This one is a hoot, not necessarily by intention. It contains soupy tunes, glistening biceps, reality star Darius Campbell and his jawline, and generally more corn than even the leading breakfast cereal brands.
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"For all the show's many defects, though, you come away impressed by its seriousness of purpose."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"It’s vigorous and generally slick, but at times feels trite."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
"It’s a commendably ambitious work that makes a refreshing addition to the West End menu."
Simon Edge for The Daily Express