October 19, 2013

FHTE Day 8: 'All's Well That Ends Well,' So Sayeth the Bard

The St Louis Cardinals won the National League Playoffs and are headed for the World Series and the From Here To Eternity The Musical is locked and headed for an onslaught of big time press reviewers at this afternoon's 2:30 matinee performance. In the World Series, the Cardinals will play either the Boston Red Sox or the Detroit Tigers in a few days. So that's on the back burner. But with the press in attendance today to review the play, the verdict — the verdict of a number of theatre reviewers anyway — in imminent and will hit the street in newspapers, radio and television much sooner. Tomorrow presumably. And I'm sure those reviews, at least many of them, will be posted on the internet quickly. Check them out, see the musical and make your own choice.
Producer and lyricist Tim Rice stopped by the post-performance gathering last night to congratulate Director Tamara Harvey and everybody for a good show.
"I think it was a smashing success," he said.
Without knowing what the reviewers will say and not being a theatre critic, except to know what I like and don't like, I'll go with Sir Tim's assessment, and the reaction of the audience at the each of the six performances I've attended this past week. In every one of them, the audience has responded highly favorably and seemed to enjoy and appreciate the show. 
As the bard said, "All's well that ends well." Words to live by.
I'm going back tonight to see how it goes. Sort of wish I'd planned to go this afternoon with the press there, but two shows are a bit much at this point. I may be back with the blog tomorrow, but I'm going to sign off with more words to live by, the words of Robert E. Lee Prewitt:

"I'll make my own choice,
"I'll find my own voice, 
"Then I'll do it right."

Until next time, there's still time to sign up for the Feb. 24-March 4 ACIS "Showtime" tour by Nov. 1 at http://www.acis.com/tripsite/?key=RFJjUDVxSFMzOHpYQnBPYWZaTT0%3D. It looks like the other show may be Billy Elliot The Musical, which I've always wanted to see and think would be quite appropriate. 

See you later from London,

October 18, 2013

FHTE Day 7: A Nostalgic Diversion - Some thoughts about James Jones, writing and years gone by

After nearly a week in London, attending five previews of From Here To Eternity - The Musical and noting the changes and progression as it heads for the locked script tomorrow, I'm about written out. Last night's show looks like the down-to-the wire, slam-dunk version that future theatre-going audiences will see. The troops are sharp-looking soldiers, the prostitutes are fitting-looking hookers and the dancing and music are pleasing to the eyes and ears. The post-performance critique was brief, quiet, low key and dealt mostly with technical areas. But there is still a rehearsal this afternoon. More fine tuning.
Besides the press call and interviews, the publicity is in full swing. A couple of nights ago, everyone coming through the theatre doors had a lei placed around their neck by women in flowery Hawaiian dresses. On the street yesterday, composer Stuart Brayson said he saw a group led by a young man in an Army uniform, dressed like Robert E. Lee Prewitt and strumming a guitar, surrounded by several young women in Hawaiian-looking dresses with leis around their necks, promoting the show. Brayson asked the man if he could actually play the guitar. When the young man answered, he asked why. "I just wondered," Brayson said he replied. "I wrote the music."That's about it for the musical today.I first read From Here To Eternity when I was about 12 years old, a year or two before I saw the movie at the old Home Theater in Oblong, Illinois. Or, tried to read it. I won't pretend that I understood all it had to say about Army life and what the men who serve experienced. But I had listened to my cousin Bruce, who had landed on Omaha Beach and fought on through Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge, and Ben Correll, who had fought in battle of Iwo Jima, and others who had read the book. Ben kept a basket of books and magazines in his barbershop that his customers took from to read and which everybody contributed to, to kept full for others to share. My father, who read western books like I ate ice cream, had read the book, too, and said it wasn't something I should be reading. But it probably wasn't until high school that I was able to more fully understand what Jones was saying. There, too, I had to surreptitiously bring the book to school and place between the pages of a massive and dry history text to read so some overzealous teacher wouldn't grab it and throw it away — or keep to read themselves, as I suspected they did with the books they confiscated from us when we were caught with a paperback. But I got the message, and later experienced much of what Jones was saying about life in the military during my three years in the Marine Corps, half of the time overseas. Then in 1977, after taking a year's leave from classroom teaching, backpacking and hitchhiking around the United States, crisscrossing it by car and spending time on each coast, I landed in Robinson, Illinois, Jones' hometown, near my own Bellair hamlet,  for a respite from my travels. Jones had just died, and Robinson Daily News Publisher Larry Lewis offered me the opportunity to write a review of Jones' war trilogy, which include The Thin Red Line and Whistle. I read Eternity and the other two, wrote the review and started writing a daily column for the paper.
I no longer write more than a sporadic column in "The News-Gazette" in Chanpaign-Urbana, Illinois, write for the James Jones Journal, edit and write a column for Spearhead, the publication of the Fifth Marine Division Association and edit Black Sands for the Iwo Jima Association of America. I miss being in the paper, though. Which is why I agreed to write this blog series when my daughter Jessica prodded me to write it while I'm in London for the previews and premiere of the musical — the blog pays only slightly less than all the other writing I'm doing at present. But then with a blog, you post when you want, what you want and how you want. Something to say for that.
To get the blog (http://rayelliott23.blogspot.com/) started, Jessica is posting it while she's going to school and getting ready to come to London for the premiere, and I've sent it out to a number of people whom I thought might be interested in not only the musical but the revival, as it were, of James Jones and his work. And in the interest of full disclosure, I've also hoped to inspire some of you to enroll with the American Council of International Study Feb.24-March 4 "Showtime" tour to see this musical and two other plays — I've had suggestions for the two musicals, Billy Ellliot and The Book of Mormon, and will check with ACIS representatives about them.
It seems to be working well. Jessica said the blog has had almost 6000 hits when she checked awhile after she started posting — it was set up awhile back but was inactive until the first of the week. So that amazing number is not just from this week, although Jessica pointed out to me that there was a tremendous spike recently. And comments I've received have been encouraging:
"Very cool, Ray! Thanks for including me in all this." "Sounds awesome! Would love to see it." "You requested 'input' regarding the additional musical being considered for the tour. I'd really like to see The Book of Mormon, if that would be possible. If that is not an option, I'd prefer Billy Elliot over The War Horse. Your daily blogs give an idea of what goes on 'behind the scenes' in producing a theaterical play. It will be exciting to see the reviews when From Here to Eternity - The Musical opens next week." "On top of my preference for Billy Elliot, I would think ONE 'war' show would be enough. Thrilled for you and this experience.  : )." "As the ol’ country saying goes, 'You’re a Pistol!'  (Enjoying your observations very much.)." "Wish I could go, unfortunately, my butt is still workin’ like a fool.  Thanks for thinking of me though..."  "Blog is great! Fantastic, Ray." "Thanks, Ray – you're doing Yeoman work, to be appreciated by SO many, come February." "Have been seriously enjoying your missives from London. You bring it alive and make me verrrry envious.  Keep ‘em comin’, and please, quit having so much fun!!" "Simply an outstanding over-view of this obvious great play.  I know you are proud to be a part of this." "I've enjoyed your dispatches from London. If we didn't have a mortgage and a kid in college, we'd jump on the next plane. Glad you are able to enjoy something that sounds so great. We will definitely aim to make the trip to New York when it is on Broadway." "What a wonderful writer you are." "I have enjoyed reading your blogs from London!  Don't stop!" "Wow!!!!!!! It sounds like you are having a wonderful time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!You are so lucky to be apart of it all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" "It was nice to hear about your trip. I have given the trip much thought and decided that I will 'sit this one out' as I have been to almost all of the places listed. The play I will look forward to seeing when it comes to the USA." "Sounds like you're having a ball." "Great reporting, Ray.  I'd love to sigh up but can't, of course. My wife is worse." "Sounds great. Hope to see it when it comes to the States." "I enjoyed reading your blog. Looks good  Wish I could go.  Sounds wonderful. I love England and remember my previous trips with fondness." "What a beautifully written blog - thank you for sending it." ""I'm looking forward to your posts, Ray."Enough self-promotion. There are many Facebook posts, though, and a final e-mail that came in after yesterday's blog is relevant to the musical and the story: "I very much enjoy your blog posts about your experiences in London and with the theatrical production in progress.  Something you wrote rings a bell: many young people today (as in the past) don't have the money to go to college. Some join the military as a means of supporting themselves and for the benefits. I know this first-hand because I volunteer at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Healthcare Center in North Chicago. My German shepherd is a therapy dog. She and I visit the locked wards in the mental hospital as well as a domiciliary for homeless veterans. Many of these soldiers (some are women) suffer from PTSD, depression, and substance and alcohol abuse. No doubt they joined the military with high expectations, but the reality is not something they could foresee. Some of the younger soldiers don't even make it through boot camp. My conversations with these people [are] enlightening and also at times heartbreaking."
Which goes right along with the story in James Jones' novel, the restored uncensored version now available, and of From Here To Eternity - The Musical, and makes it all the more important for audiences, young and old.
But enough said for today. I just returned from the last rehearsal I'll attend. Tightening, tweaking, fine tuning. Brilliant work. Looking forward to tonight's show and the premiere on press night, Oct. 23.
Until next time, again, if you're a fan of good musicals, I'd still, run, not walk, to figure out a way to get to London to see this play. And I mean it more that ever this time. From Here To Eternity The Musical is going to be a smashing success, and I'm not just "blowing smoke." 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. Not sure at this point how many spots are still available. 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,

October 17, 2013

FHTE Day 6: Two Days and a Wake-up for "From Here To Eternity - The Musical" to be 'Locked'

It's crunch time as Saturday approaches, and the time for the story and presentation of From Here To Eternity - The Musical to be 'locked' is imminent. But like anyone else getting down to the wire for show time — the St. Louis Cardinals as they face the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 3-2 lead in the National League Playoffs, headed to to 2013 World Series — there's no panic, just hard work, dedication and confidence in the final product. Everybody goes about his/her job with a quiet efficiency and competence that promises a successful result.
Oh, there was a bit of madness yesterday afternoon before rehearsal with the press call, with a dozen or more photographers in the theatre to take photos. Producer and lyricist Sir Tim Rice and composer Stuart Brayson went off for three television interviews while director Tamara Harvey set scenes with actors and and orchestrator David White ran through musical numbers while cameras clicked and
A section of the company of From Here to Eternity - The Musical poses for photographer Johan Persson.
 photographers jockeyed for position. The actors and actresses seemed to enjoy the spotlight, sometimes having to stop and start the scene over when it didn't go quite right. And Harvey would run the scene again, always polite and accommodating with the photographers, asking them if they got enough from the scene or the songs. After a half an hour or 45 minutes, she asked if there was anything else the photographers needed. Finished, they packed up and left the theatre. All in all, it was quite orderly and necessary for publicity's sake.
Somebody said the actors enjoyed being before the cameras, but the tech people probably didn't find it as enjoyable with all the stops and starts and scene switches. Understandable.    
Be that as it may, rehearsals seemed to take on a different feeling after the press call. There were still run-throughs of songs, a difficult fight scene was discussed and worked on to make it smoother and
more realistic, actors were getting haircuts and the whole atmosphere was different for a neophyte like me who had never been behind the scenes of a major musical show preparing for a world premiere. It was both impressive and inspirational. I pinched myself to see if I were really there.
But it was the show that I was curious to see. So much had been changed and tweaked in the first three shows I'd seen that I was eager to see if there were improvements from the night before when it seemed to be all coming together. Frankly, afterward, I could see very few ways for improvement. Except for a couple of minor shoulder movements with the rifles that are being addressed, the subtle nuances for improvement weren't apparent to me. I didn't stay for the post-performance discussion, and walked back with Brayson to our respective hotels while listening to his critique and thoughts about what else might be done to make the conclusion, which was already quite powerful, even more memorable.
"I think we're there," he said as we walked. "And it'll be smoother as we reach the point where there are no more changes possible.
As I understood him, there will be more music and singing from "The Boys of '41" after the Finale and during the curtain call.
What I do know for sure is that this musical captures the essence of James Jones' novel with music in ways that should capture the attention of youth everywhere. Many in the older crowd can identify
with it through life's experiences. And many young people who have never heard of either James Jones or From Here To Eternity can identify with it through the music and learn some about what those men and women who go off to war experience for the defense of their country. In a small and random sample of students at the University of Illinois where my daughter Jessica is a freshman, she said she only found one individual who had heard of either the novel or the author. I didn't ask her, but I expect that that student had only heard of the movie.

Which brings me to my point regarding the story. 
In his work set in the military and during war, James Jones was an extraordinary spokesman for the enlisted men who serve in our military, not just for his own time but for all time. In his day, it was the poor and the disenchanted young men growing to manhood in and the Great Depression who were joining the military for "three hots and a cot" and travel to exotic places like Hawaii. They came from the hardscrabble farms of the country, from the poverty of the inner city and from families who lost their wealth and standing during the depression. Of the latter group, many were unable to attend college as their fathers had, and joined a branch of the military. Jones himself joined the Army in 1939 after his father's dental practice had suffered during the depression. I joined the Marine Corps 20 years later because I was financially unable to attend college and had few employment opportunities. 
While many of today's youth come from affluent families and are able to attend college or find jobs to support themselves, many cannot. And with no draft, they don't have to worry about military
service. But there are those who have few employment opportunities, want to travel and leave the parental nest, follow in the footsteps of their fathers who served, join for patriotic reasons or are
enamored with the idea of war — the ancient Greeks believed that men of each generation went off to war to prove their mettle. 

That may be the case, sadly, and our leaders certainly take advantage of that. But while the United States may have the best military in its history, it's still the few who serve and go to war for the many. In World War II, everybody was involved as they have been in no other war of the country since. Still, it's the same kind of people who are serving. It's just a different time.
The same division of and disdain for officers still exists — don't get me wrong, there are many good officers. But the caste system still exists, and the "Dynamite" Holmes of the military are still around.
Contending with those types of officers going off to faraway lands and fighting unpopular battles,  unnecessary wars are the destiny of many young warriors today. And that's the story I see being presented in From Here To Eternity - The Musical, and it makes the message very significant. The young men and women of the world will find a historical perspective in the musical, and the young men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world, particularly since the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, will find a verisimilitude they rarely find in theatre, literature, music or life itself.
It won't be something you soon forget. 
Until next time, again, 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 show. And I mean it more that ever this time. The From Here To Eternity musical is going to be a smashing success, and I'm not just "blowing smoke." 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. And in addition to the Eternity, I'm trying to decide with the ACIS and people here on the other musical we'll see here in London. Billy Eliot? War Horse? If you're going and have a suggestion, let me know.

See you later from London,

October 16, 2013

FHTE Day 5: Wow! What a Show "From Here To Eternity - The Musical" is Becoming

With the From Here To Eternity musical scheduled to be locked on Saturday, the cast and crew are working diligently to get it wrapped up. Led by the brilliant young director Tamara Harvey, a great cast and supporting staff necessary to get the job done, rehearsals with changes to the script are held daily each afternoon, then put in place on the stage each night in preview with the staff in the audience seeing how the changes work and how the audience reacts. I've seen three show since I arrived on Saturday, and the changes are remarkable.
Talking with my daughter, Jessica, on FaceTime, about how things were going, she reminded me how hectic the last week of shows she and Caitlin, her sister, had participated in been since second grade on. "It's stressful," Jessica said. "But when they're done with the show this week, that's the way it'll be 50 years from now."
Which is a formidable task.
Initially, I wasn't especially moved with Act One, although I wasn't too articulate with why.
Harvey told me later she thought it was because I hadn't slept for more than 30 hours. And that was undoubtedly accurate. Yet it was obvious from what I heard that there was work to be done to get the act to the point where it sets up Act Two and was much stronger. The squad of soldiers looked sharp in their uniforms, marched, fought, sang and danced very well and seemed to be comfortable in their roles. The women, Karen Holmes (Rebecca Thornhill) and Lorene (Siubhan Harrison) Prewitt's prostitute girl friend and the other prostitutes were all lovely and sang quite admirably. So I was anxious to see what was going to be done to change things to make the act work better.
I knew there would be a new song lyricist Stuart Brayson had written to replace the final song of the first act and watched the cast run through it at rehearsal yesterday afternoon. I knew it was a remarkable song when I first heard it, one that would appeal greatly to an American audience as well as a British one. The new song, "More Than America," looked great in rehearsals and topped off the first act, leading into the second act and setting it up in ways the previous one had not. It made me forget any criticism I may have had about the act, and I couldn't even remember the other song as I sat beside Brayson at the evening performance.
"That's fantastic," I said. "What was the song it replaced?
"If you can't remember it, it doesn't matter," he replied, smiling.
I couldn't argue with that and settled in for the second act, which had also had several additions that I thought quite remarkable and thought provoking, particularly near the end of the show. I'd seen what was planned in rehearsals for display behind the screen in the backdrop but wasn't quite prepared for it when the cast started singing "The Boys of '41." Tears well up in my eyes. It was quite effective, not only for the Boys of '41 but the entire 405,000 American servicemen who gave their lives and those who served during World War II and all the Allied troops who fought right along side them to save the Allied countries' way of life. I can't imagine this play not playing well in London and going on to a successful run in the United States. Maybe not for 50 years but for a long time to come as legacy families and friends retain the memory of those who served during the war — several of the people who are bringing this musical to the stage had fathers who served with the British in World War II.
After the show, I listened to discussion about the changes and how effective they were.
"I think we're there," Brayson said. "It's just fine tuning now."
No doubt. And there are three more days for that. The post show didn't last as long as previous nights, but there is still rehearsal this afternoon. Today, there is also a press photo call. Sounds like a bit of madness, but I'm here for the duration, until after the Oct. 23 premiere, and wouldn't miss it for the world. I'm quite honored to be around the excitement of seeing the play locked up and put to bed, and how it honors James Jones' work and the military in which he serves.
Until next time, then, 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. And I mean it more that ever this time. The From Here To Eternity musical is going to be a smashing success, and I'm not just "blowing smoke." 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,

October 15, 2013

FHTE Day 4: From Here To Eternity - The Musical | It's About the Story

If the British Museum is a "museum of the world, for the world," as it surely is, I don't think it's a stretch to say that the From Here to Eternity story is a story of the world, for the world. In The Thin Red Line, the second novel in James Jones' World War II trilogy, 1stSgt Welch (1stSgt Milt Warden's indistinguishable 1stSgt successor as the company serves on Guadalcanal) comes back to the States from combat and takes a street pulpit, so to speak, and gives a cynical diatribe speech against war and asks the soldiers of the war, German, Japanese and all the countries at war — and it is a world-wide war — to unite against fighting them. Unfortunately, each generation in the world and each generation's leaders don't have the experience of Welch and those who fight our nation's wars to change the way humans conduct life. 
 Jones' Boys of '41 were in the first phase of that process. They seemed eager to go to war. That's the story, the story of young men who have yet to experience war and the women who stand by their side, whether they be the always present prostitutes or the wives men drag along with them. If you're looking for the movie in the musical, though, you may not find exactly what you're looking for. You will only find it if you look for the story and appreciate the great music and lyrics and music that Sir Tim Rice and Stuart Brayson produced, based on the novel by Jones. 
In a brief conversation with Brayson, a blues and rock 'n' roll musician who has carried the idea of a musical version of From Here To Eternity in his head for 13 years, he reinforced the idea of the story.
"I wanted to get the story out to young people who had never seen the movie or heard of the book," he said. "I think that's done today through music."  
And that's done with 26 songs, some individually, some duo and some by all or part of the cast. My absolute favorite is a blues song of sorts, "I Ain't Where I Wanna Be Blues," sung by Robert Lonsdale (Robert E. Lee Prewitt) and Darius Campbell (1stSgt Milton Warden) in a drunken encounter, reminiscent of the movie, in the middle of the road late one night. But I like the blues, and this is a good one. 
There's not a bad song in the bunch, really. Kicking the show off with "G Company Blues," the one Brayson said he wrote first, through "Thirty Year Man," by the soldiers, "Don't Cha Like Hawaii," by Madame Kipfer, The New Congress Club (where the men find sexual relief) Trio and Company, "Fight the Fight," "From Here To Eternity," "Thirty Year Man," "The Boys of '41," And the "Finale" by the company to conclude the show, the music tells the story told in Jones' novel in great detail in a most entertaining way. You see the soldiers marching, fighting, in the barracks, doing what soldiers do and singing their hearts out. You see them with the prostitutes they visit when they've got the money —"You Got The Money" by the company.  
You also see subtleties in dialogue that moves the story and tells it quite clearly. Only one brief sentence sometimes does the job very well, like when "Dynamite" Holmes finally realizes who his wife is having an affair with, which he's been trying to find out all along to no avail. By that time, it's too late to do anything about it because the Japanese are attacking Pearl Harbor and there are more important things to do. Bill Oakes, whose spent 30 years in Hollywood as a script writer and music supervisor — he won a Grammy Award for Saturday Night Fever and and AmericanMusic Award for Grease — has done an outstanding job of telling the story from Jones' novel.
If you've been in the military, you know the story is a true one; if you haven't you get a powerful dose of what military life is like, if you follow the story. 
 I know the story. I spent some time in the tropical paradise of the Philippines. I've read the book at least three times, including earlier this year when I read the restored, uncensored version, prepared with an afterword, by past James Jones Literary Society president and University of Illinois English Professor George Hendrick, I've seen the movie several times at various stages of my life, which both the book and the movie, give you a different perspective as a result of life's experiences, I've read two versions of the book (the musical script) and have been a small part of the production since June as military adviser. And now I've see two preview performances. And although I know the story, I'm seeing new things all the time. I can only imagine what the entire crew and cast have seen and experienced during the long days and nights and weeks it takes to get to this stage with the premiere on the horizon. And changes are still being made until the show is locked Saturday.
I'm going to the afternoon rehearsal today, to tonight's performance where the music ending Act One is being changed, and to as many other rehearsals and performances possible until the premiere. I want to know the story as well as I can and to see the changes made and all the work it takes to bring a play to the London stage.  
And speaking of the London stage, while I'm by no means a theatre authority, I can think of no better place to see the From Here To Eternity musical sprout wings and fly off through the ages. I was in London with a group of students when Miss Saigon was here in the early days and didn't get to see it because of time constraints and confusion. I later saw the show in New York and appreciated it. And I'll probably see From Here To Eternity in New York when it gets there. But I can't imagine not seeing it here. The theatre is magnificent, the set is plain in a way, necessarily, but the filmed backdrop of the dashing ocean coming up on Blowhole and the Hawaiian Islands is both lovely and brilliant, as they say here in London. The theatre-going audiences are wonderful. You can dress casually. Besides local people, you meet people from all over the world. I spent several minutes talking a man of Filipino ancestry from the San Francisco Bay Area in the theatre lobby last night. He asked a question I've heard a lot: Do they have the beach scene with Warden and Karen Holmes like they had in the movie? Well, yeah, they do. The waves look as if they splash right out of the screen on them. But it's not exactly like the movie version.
That's it for the day. The blog is up and running. My daughter Jessica has helped her technologically challenged father in that regard. And the response has been phenomenal through e-mail and Facebook. I've heard from many people around the country, the Philippines, former students, one who even lives in England and has sent me a number of links for sites she thought I might like to visit. So I'll quite sending e-mails of my blog, realizing that many of you who have been so bothered with it may not be interested in hearing any more about the musical.  
Until next time, then, 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,

October 14, 2013

FHTE Day 3: "A museum of the world, for the world"

Rather chilly and rainy here for the second day in a row, but I hardly noticed. Not much to do today so I went to the British Museum — after I caught up on my sleep. The museum is truly "a museum of the world, for the world," as it says in the map. I only spent a couple of hours there early this afternoon. By the time I got back to the hotel, it felt as though I'd been on a forced march. The From Here To Eternity cast did two shows Saturday. None on Sunday. With the way my legs felt today, I can imagine how the actor/soldiers must have felt after two shows doing all the dancing and marching they do. But they're young.
I'd been to the museum years ago with a group of students, my wife and Gaye "The Blade" Dunn, a teaching colleague, on an ACIS tour, the company I'm coming back with for the "Showtime" tour Feb. 24-March 4 to see the musical, two other shows and a host of other things. But we had an ACIS courier to show us around. That's the way I'd prefer. As it was I wandered aimlessly, looking at what I wanted and marveling at all the young students and teachers on field trips. I stopped at an exhibit of a man (I think) in a grave from antiquity with a group of students in their fourth year, about nine or 10 years old and spoke with one of their parents who was chaperoning. The children had worksheets to fill out, as other students throughout the museum did, while their teacher gave a brief lecture.The woman told me the students went to other museums throughout London on similar field trips during the year.
"It's one of the benefits about living in London," she said. 
I don't know about living in London. But it's a great city to visit with so many things to see and do. And attending the preview of the From Here To Eternity musical is what I came to see. So
I'm going to cut this short, get some rest and head back to the Shaftesbury Theatre to see tonight's rendering of what looks like a great musical.

See you tomorrow from London,

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,

October 12, 2013

FHTE Day 1: London Town High and sleep won't come

The following is my first post of several documenting my experiences here in London, England as I assist in the effort to make all military content and references in From Here to Eternity: The Musical accurate and authentic.

I don't know which was more exciting, arriving in London in the middle of the night to begin seeing previews of the From Here To Eternity musical previews before the show is locked, and it begins a run that I'm hopeful hat takes it to Broadway and a great run for a long time to come or that the St. Louis Cardinals won an exciting game in 13 innings of the first game of the National League Playoffs and are on their way to to what I'm hopeful is another NLP win and a World Series title. I can't imagine it getting any better than that. I'm pumped.
Getting to London in the middle of the night isn't the best of times. Or so I thought after I learned that the Admiral's Club, for which I had a one-day pass, and planned to stay until the trains started running from Heathrow to London in the morning when I could check into the hotel. At 60 or 70 pounds, a cab was out. And a hotel 10-15 minutes from the airport was 165 pounds and two 10-15 pound cab rides. So I joined a number of other weary travelers in a lounge to sleep in chairs. Or try to sleep. I don't think I slept more than 20 minutes. A lanky man about my age — not quite older than dirt — with somewhat long white hair and  beard came in right behind me and took seats over in the next row and started snoring right away. He told me later that he had ear plugs. But his snoring and the clean-up crew mopping under my chairs and a vehicle of some kind running up and down the area kept me awake.
Both of us sat up about the same time and started talking. He was a communications guy in the Navy, a wounded Vietnam veteran who spent 30 years lawyering in North Carolina and walked away to do what he wanted to do. He'd come from Paris where he left his wife and was on his way to Brooks River, Alaska, for the second year in a row, where he expected to spend the winter again.
"I hope to get there by Tuesday," he said. "From her to Philly to Raleigh, where a friend will bring me some clothes for Alaska, and I'll give him this suitcase, take the one he has and go on to Seattle and Juneau and out to Brooks River, hopefully before the river freezes over."
I don't recall the purpose of spending the winter there, except watching the bears. It was just something he wanted to do, for one thing. He said there are four cameras to watch them and asked me to google Brooks River Bears and click on Explore. Which I did. Quite interesting. Big bears doing their thing. We talked until people started filling the area. Shops opened up. He went for cigarettes; I went for breakfast and then for the underground train and met a woman who lives in Australia. We talked about books, shows, Australia and whatever all the way to Holborn Station where we got off and went our separate ways. She was meeting her daughter who was studying in London and was going to see a show she'd said earlier. That's when the From Here To Eternity musical came up, and we started looking for poster for the show. Didn't see a one until we came up from underground and at the top of the escalator where we came upon a huge one at the end of a long string of smaller ones advertising shows. Both of us got a photo.
"We'll have to see that show," she said, extending her hand later.
Me too. I'm off to the 2:30 p.m. show. May see the 7:30 p.m. one as well. And I'll try to tell you about the show later. May have to sleep first, though. 
Until then, take a look at Friday's Wall Street Journal that has a piece in the Arena section on the musical 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,