I fell in love with the music first, in part because it felt so evocative of these men and women and the world they’re living in - the sensual, sultry world of Hawaii; the fierce and brutal world of the military - but also because Stuart Brayson just writes damn good tunes. In his melodies, the worlds of rock and pop, blues and Hawaiian ukuleles, 1940s big band and military brass interweave to create a score (orchestrated by the brilliant David White) that is both compelling and intensely moving. And then I fell in love with the story - love and hate, the ache of a failing marriage and the heat of a passionate affair, men in peacetime and men at war, the comradeship and the bitter rivalries of army life - all set against the backdrop of a world on the brink of destruction. So I was hooked. Now the producers and I just needed to find a creative team that would have the skills and inspiration necessary to bring this world to life. And what's so exciting about the team that we’ve found is that we all come from such different backgrounds - classical theatre, opera, ballet, rock, and of course musicals - so that together we’re creating something new and - hopefully - completely captivating.
In July we had a workshop week - six days spent with some of our cast members in a rehearsal room in Southwark playing with the ideas that will be at the heart of the production. For the first two days we were joined by our military advisor from Illinois, Ray Elliott, who taught us the fundamentals of life in the US military - how and when to salute, the strict formations of close-order drill, the regulations of rifle practice. And then we started working with army cots, with trunks and chairs, with boxing gloves, skipping ropes and punch bags, with bugles and playing cards and cigarettes, learning how to hula and experimenting with the different sounds that would be heard on an army base in Hawaii in 1941, so that all of these elements can join with Stuart Brayson’s songs, Tim Rice’s lyrics and Bill Oakes’ words to bring the world of From Here to Eternity to life.
Each morning now that we’re in rehearsals, the men and women do a physical warm-up that is more high octane than anything I’ve ever seen in a rehearsal room - travelling press ups, marching with rifles held out in front of them at shoulder height (have you ever lifted a rifle? They’re surprisingly heavy), jogging whilst holding a fellow cast member on their backs, cartwheeling across the floor... This isn’t all just research either - we’ve got the extraordinary choreographer Javier de Frutos (Cabaret, London Road) creating our movement and dance sequences so the show is incredibly physically demanding: it’s vital that all of the cast have a level of fitness above and beyond that required by other musicals. When the final production comes together in September, the audience should experience energy like nothing they’ve seen before in a theatre. Understandably for an army waiting for war to begin, this is a world sculpted by explosive moments of high-octane fighting - whether in the boxing ring or as men topple over the close knit bunks of their squad room, exposing the underlying tensions of life in the barracks.
And so the musical becomes a window into the lives of these incredibly complex and charismatic men and the difficult and treacherous lives they lead. The show will draw us into their lives and the choices that they must make in pursuit of a life worth living. Will we sympathise with them? Will we understand their frustrations and the confusion they feel in trying to find meaning in a world “that’s blowin’ itself to hell as fast as five hundred million people can arrange it”?
And then there are the love stories. When your heroes are men who are living such frustrating, testosterone-filled lives, you can be sure that their love affairs will be pretty spectacular. We will see passions both successful and catastrophic, tender and feverish, involving the men and women of Hawaii, both native and foreign; passions that can’t help but be exciting, fleeting and often dangerous.
And then there’s the humour - quite aside from the wit of Jones’ original work, which we’ve threaded through our script, we’ve got a bit of a comic genius in our midst who’s already had us helpless with laughter a few times in rehearsal. Always a good thing in an epic piece - without laughter, how can there be tears?
And the backdrop for all of this? Well, luckily we’ve got the award-winning Soutra Gilmour as our designer, who’s created a highly theatrical and sensual landscape, combining the sand and sea of the paradise that is Hawaii with the stark, clean lines of the army base. There’s a vintage feel to what we’ve created - the texture of one of those old Hawaiian posters - which then comes sharply to life when our characters come on stage. I had a wonderful five minutes yesterday getting a sneak preview of the amazing Hawaiian shirts and original ‘30s dresses that Soutra and her team have found in through hours and days of searching the vintage shops of London and beyond.
We’ve also got a visionary lighting designer in Bruno Poet (who’s just got back from lighting the Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros and whose design for Frankenstein at the National won him several awards); a genius projection designer in Jon Driscoll (who’s just finished work on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory); and a legendary sound designer in Mick Potter, who’s created extraordinary soundscapes for musicals all around the world including Phantom of the Opera.
So - in brief - what will you experience when you come to see From Here to Eternity? Great tunes; a compelling story of passion, brutality and desire; witty and complex men and women living every day as though it might be their last; and a visual and aural feast created by some of the most exciting artists working in theatre anywhere in the world.
We can’t wait to draw you into our story...