2017-10-12 / Community

'From Here to Eternity' is Ogunquit's latest moving musical


"From Here To Eternity" at the Ogunquit Playhouse opened with a whimper and ended with a bang.  The bang was the anticipated attack on Pearl Harbor at the conclusion of the piece that far surpassed any expectations.  It was a true assault on the senses in sound and fury.  The very walls of the playhouse became screens of animated Japanese bombers raining down explosive ordinance on the alarmed troops as the stage erupted in fire and devastation.  

The whimper was the nervous electrical system which was suffering from opening night jitters which caused a delay of game before the action began. The bewildered audience wondered what in the world was going on as they stared at a blank stage.  Happily, the stage soon came alive with an army of pressed khaki in a military and choreographic whirlwind.  It was an imaginative mix of military maneuver and athletic dance that included a parade of footlockers and bunks and a festive expression of controlled chaos.  

The production presents a very sad picture of military life that is rife with the petty greed of rank promotion, marital infidelity, suicide, cruelty, injustice, and gay bashing.  Not a very pleasant mirror of our greatest generation.  

The machinations of this convoluted plot seem much better suited for the operatic stage rather than the boards of musical theater.  

However,  the singing was brilliant.  Here the cast was universally superb.   The solos were delivered with an excellence of melodic voice and heartfelt passion.  The male lead, Private Robert E. Lee Pruitt, was played by Derek Carley.   Amazingly,  he was able to deftly astound the audience as he sang with gusto while doing pushups or tying his boots.  

Special mention is also very well deserved by actor Michael Tacconi as Private Angelo Maggio.  He absolutely charmed the audience with his energy, enthusiasm, zest, and his “joie de vivre.” The pathos of his ultimate and undeserved tragic demise is made all the more powerful by the groundwork of amusing delight expressed in his early scenes.  

A dramatic highlight that was very smartly conceived and directed was the unexpected fate of Private Issac Bloom.  Bloom, played by Jason Michael Evans, has a secret sexual life that he closely guards and fears that his identity as a gay man will be revealed.  At the moment when all is resolved and his secret is safe, he performs a ritual that shocks. This moment of high drama was beautifully staged as Bloom’s calm military maneuvers are mirrored by two silent soldiers on the set’s periphery before the final shock that caused my theater companion to literally jump from her seat.   It was a haunting moment of theatrical brilliance.  

From Here to Eternity has an interesting history. The novel was penned by James Joyce in 1951 and is ranked as of the best American novels ever written (#62  in the top 100). 1953 saw the award-winning film version with Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift, Ernest Borgnine, and Donna Reed.  Additionally, there were two television miniseries. 

Broadway phenomenon, Sir Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Chess) acquired the rights and the musical theater version opened in London’s West End and ran for close to seven months.  The American premiere was recently staged at New York’s Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival with which the Ogunquit Playhouse closely collaborated.  Brett Smock directed, produced and choreographed both incarnations and brought along some of the technical staff and cast.     

From Here To Eternity will continue through October 29th. For ticket information, call the Ogunquit Playhouse Box Office at 646-5511 or order your tickets online at www.ogunquitplyhouse.org. Ticket prices range from $52 to $102.

— Greg Morell is the director of the Antic Arts Center and a columnist for Artscope Magazine. He can be reached at Morell.Gregory@gmail.com.

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