October 13, 2013

FHTE Day 2: My first look at the "From Here To Eternity" preview

Another great day: I saw my first preview of the From Here to Eternity musical here yesterday afternoon, bleary-eyed from no sleep for more than 30 hours, and then I later learned that the St. Louis Cardinals had beaten the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0 yesterday afternoon in the second game of the National League Playoffs with another brilliant pitching job by 22-year-old rookie Michael Wacha in the duel with stellar Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw. For a longtime fan of Tim Rice, James Jones and the St.Louis Cardinals, it doesn't get any much better for that aspect of life. If only the U.S. Congress and the president would do so well.
I'd already told Director Tamara Harvey that I wanted to attend the 2:30 p.m. show but didn't think I could make the 7:30 p.m. one (and didn't), but I was still in levis and hadn't unpacked. So I asked her if it was okay to come dressed that way.
"It's always okay to come in Levis, apart from possibly opening night," she said.
I like that.
The Shaftesbury Theatre is only a five-minute walk from the hotel, but I started out 45 minutes before I needed to be there. Streets go every which way in London, they aren't marked well enough for a kid from Bellair or me to follow now, and I didn't have my GPS to guide me. I couldn't even follow the map I got from the concierge. But I made it there after a few wrong turns. The Shaftesbury sits on a corner at 210 Shaftesbury Avenue, and as I got closer, I just followed the crowd heading to the theatre, which filled up nearly a half an hour before curtain time, got my ticket and took my seat.  
Just before Ryan Sampson as Pvt Angelo Maggio, with a ukulele in his hand and a wily but slight grin tugging at the corner of his mouth, walked to the corner of the stage, Tamara and a director friend joined me. I'd only seen the soldiers in their scruffy civilian clothes at the workshop when I'd taught them close order drill, the manual of arms, saluting and military protocol in late June and early July. And I was impressed when I saw the G Company soldiers in uniform, ties tucked in between the second and third shirt buttons, the line of the shirt outside the buttons and trouser and outer edge of the belt all straight as a string. Only Maggio, true to character, doesn't quite conform to Army standards of dress. But the rest look like squared away soldiers as those of Schofield Barracks would have been when Jones served there in the early '40s. They even wore their overseas caps with the same individuality World War II soldiers did with the tops squashed down, ends pointed up or slanted from one side or the other  And they marched like and handled rifles like real soldiers. I'd told them during the workshop when they picked up marching so quickly and so well that'd they'd make good Marines. And they would. Jones would have been proud of them, too. 
What you see them do in the musical is as taxing, stressful and physically demanding as any military training and needing precise execution in the same way. I'd watched some of the workouts and knew they did much of the physically demanding exercises as if they were really in the Army. It has to be quite difficult to assume the role of a soldier without ever having been one. But they do it quite well. Only two of the cast have had military experience, two of them having served in the Israeli Army. Like a raw recruit does as he continues to serve, though, these actors and dancers have shown they are getting comfortable in the roles they are playing.
But what impressed me as much as anything was their accents. Most of them I'd heard speak last summer had distinctly British accents, some more than others; however, to a man (and woman) they sounded like American young men and woman. Great dialogue coach. Somebody told me they'd overheard an audience member say, "They even brought over American actors." When I went backstage after the performance to meet them again and to congratulate them, they were once again speaking in their normal accents. Remarkable. 
I wasn't quite as alert in Act One as I hope to be after getting some rest, but I was more alert and blown away by Act Two.  "The Boys of '41" from James Jones blockbuster From Here to Eternity novel (and a song in the musical) that so well captured the men finding refuge from the Great Depression in the United States Army and then being thrust into World War II on a single Sunday morning in December 1941 in ways they'd never dreamed brings home the reality of those war years so long ago — that reality was also brought back to the fore a few days ago when it was reported that the remains of three MIA Marines were located on Guadalcanal where they and Jones had fought 71 years ago. 
The cast, with all of the hard work, long rehearsals and behind-the-scenes work brings all of that reality to a crashing crescendo when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. It's so difficult and a leap of faith to be able to bring the realities of military life to the stage in a musical production, but this show does it in ways I've never seen since Miss Saigon. 
The closest I've ever been to a stage production before this has been watching my daughters, Theresa, Jessica and Caitlin in high school and college productions and all the stress, dedication and effort it takes. Oh, I was in one high school play that my high school English teacher and playwright Jack Stokes wrote for us. And I only played a small part as a henpecked husband in that — which took me a little time effort to get comfortable playing. Nothing like I've seem here, certainly.
Until next time, if you're a fan of good musicals, I'd run, not walk, to figure out a way to get to London to see this play. I'm confident that it'll make it to Broadway, but I don't know when. It's here in London now and do remember that I'm coming back with a tour Feb. 24-March 4. Still time to sign up for the ACIS "Showtime" tour by Nov. 1 at http://www.acis.com/tripsite/?key=RFJjUDVxSFMzOHpYQnBPYWZaTT0%3D.

See you later from London,

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