First staged in 2012, this musical adapted from the classic novel by James Jones, spans the themes of army life, the nature of love, and the consequences of war. It's not a re-hash of the previous production though, it's been thoroughly revised by Tim Rice (lyrics) and Stuart Brayson (music). With musical theatre royalty like this pair, our expectations were high, and we were not disappointed.
Set in the two weeks leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, we start at the point that the attack is happening and Private Pewitt, played by Jonathon Bentley, is trying to re-join his comrades. We then re-wind to the events 2 weeks previously leading to his separation from the company.
The small stage seems filled by bored muscular GIs, who simultaneously love and hate the army as embodied in Maggio's song "I love the army". We get a strong sense that all that pent up testosterone, with nothing to do, is going to lead to trouble. Boxing is the way that this company releases the excess energy, and a succession of promotions rest on the arrival of Private Pewitt and his ability to win a major match. The flaw in this plan is that he's vowed never to fight again, and is resolute, no matter what treatment the sergeant and major can throw at him.
Running alongside this are 2 love stories. The first is the affair between Karen who is the wife of Colonel Delbert, (played by Carley Stenson), and his second in command. The famous beach scene is less passionate than in the film, and we learn that this is not Karen's first dalliance. However, her indifferent husband has also been seeing other women and passed on a STD, and we are asked to understand her situation, needing to escape from a loveless marriage.
The second is between Pewitt and Lorene, who works for Mrs Kipfer in the local brothel. Lorene emphases that it's her choice to work there, and she's not asking to be rescued. Both Karen and Lorene come to realise that they have choices, and that those don't depend on the men. That revelation is perhaps a bigger one for Karen.
Mrs Kipfer, played by Eve Polycarpou was for me the strongest character in the musical, with her song 'I know what you came for' one of the standouts.
The musical is able to follow the book more closely than the film did, and addresses the issue of being gay in the services at that time, and the consequences for being found out. Those consequences are experienced by mouthy Maggio, brilliantly played by Jonny Amies.
As the clock counts down towards the Japanese bombers, all affairs of the heart seem futile, as there is only one ending and it's not going to be a happy one. That part seemed to happen very quickly at the end, and it didn't quite move me in the way that it perhaps should have done.
That said, the cast all sang clearly, and there were some beautiful voices, as well as excellent acting, and a cracking story. What more could you want? Go to experience this for yourself, and judge if Tim Rice has achieved his usual magic.
Address: Charing Cross Theatre, The Arches, Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NL
Box office: 08444 930650
When: 29 October - 17 December
Performances: Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm
Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 3.00pm
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including an interval
Prices: £25.00 - £39.50
Premium seats £49.50 (includes a programme and a glass of bubbly)