Probably best known from the somewhat sanitised 1953 film version which featured a then controversial roll in the Hawaiian surf for a semi-clad Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, James Jones’ 1951 romantic wartime novel, set in the immediate run up to Pearl Harbour, gets a decent, rather than inspired, makeover in this new musical adaptation, competently directed by Tamara Harvey. Tim Rice (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s former collaborator) provides some clever lyrics, and Javier de Frutos’s muscular choreography captures the gritty, disciplined toughness of life in the barracks for the American soldiers stationed in the Pacific.
Ironically, the musical highlight of the show is a duet between the two male leads – principled, bullied Private Prewitt from Kentucky who’s signed up for a thirty year stint and fallen for Siobhan Harrison’s Lorene from the whorehouse, and Darius Campbell’s rich-voiced, if somewhat wooden, First Sergeant Milt Warden.
Mind you, he only has to utter the words “I want to go to bed with you” to the Captain’s unhappy wife and she’s up on the table, stripped to her undies and raring to go.
But if the love stories don’t carry much weight, the diminutive Ryan Sampson (in the role played by Frank Sinatra on screen) adds real energy and determination as the resourceful, brutalised Private Angelo Maggio and although you’re unlikely to come out singing composer Stuart Brayson’s varied and pleasing tunes after a single hearing, a second exposure might well tip the balance.
Where: Shaftesbury Theatre, WC2H 8DP