The show starts with the last shot in the movie, in which Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed are sailing away from Hawaii after the attack on Pearl Harbor, both losers in love with their respective army "30-year" men, Milt Warden and Robert E Lee Prewitt.
On stage, these departing dames in the new musical by Tim Rice (lyrics taking top billing for once), West End debutant Stuart Brayson (music) and producer and record executive Bill Oakes (book) are powerfully taken by Rebecca Thornhill as the tragically promiscuous Karen Holmes and Siubhan Harrison as lovelorn Lorene from Oregon.
The first is the dissatisfied wife of the commanding officer who famously rolled in the surf with Burt Lancaster as First Sergeant Milt Warden, now played by the exceedingly tall and strikingly bass-voiced former "Pop Idol" Darius Campbell; the second, the night-club girl who yearns for a respectable life in Middle America with the flawed private Prewitt (a fresh-faced, likeable Robert Lonsdale).
Tamara Harvey's production goes back to James Jones' 1951 novel, based on his personal experience, to provide a more concentrated take on the square-bashing, not to say gay-bashing, rigours of the rifle corps. What it doesn't have is the emotional intensity and narrative control of the movie – the first act is far too long and windy – and the music, oh dear, is more serviceable than inspired, with minimal harmonic complexity and no flat-out melody to sing about.
With good designs by Soutra Gilmour and sensitive lighting by Bruno Poet, Harvey provides a series of snapshots, or postcards, which can be ripped apart for the dormitory rough house or low dive rumbles in the New Congress Club, then quickly dissolved into discreet scenic projections (by Jon Driscoll) for the outdoor action, notably the beach scene which is broken up into a series of teasing tableaux before Thornhill bares her bottom and... blackout.
The well-drilled company of soldiers and good-time girls take in a wide range of tried and tested choreography by Javier de Frutos and Kate Waters – slow-mo platoon routines, Hawaian shimmy shakes, jungle-bunny bed-hopping, a brilliantly staged boxing number, some gay abandon and a little black lingerie strutting – to some efficient "musical theatre" scoring; Brayson doesn't quite pull off any really distinctive tension between lyrical individuality and period style.
It would be too easy, though, to overlook the fact that none of Rice's lyrics seem forced or over-heated. He does have an unequalled knack of matching colloquial ease with inner feeling, notably here in Prewitt's despairing solo suspended between life and death.
Prewitt is refusing to box on the rifle corps team because he's accidentally blinded a previous opponent, but his violent face-off with Brian Doherty's "Fatso" (an unforgettably porcine Ernest Borgnine in the movie) doesn't punch its weight, musically; nor does his friendship with the spry and cheeky Angelo Maggio of Ryan Sampson (a much darker, drunker Frank Sinatra on film).
Jimmy Porter famously blew his own trumpet in Look Back In Anger, and there's something of a Tennessee Williams angst about Prewitt's bugling reputation that is insufficiently explored in either performance or musical adaptation; the show eventually becomes over-burdened with melodramatic plot, though the Pearl Harbour attack is excitingly evoked before Milt Warden assumes control and the ladies set sail.
Come on our hosted WhatsOnStage Outing on 30 October 2013 and get your top-price ticket, a FREE signed poster and access to our EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A with Tim Rice, Tamara Harvey & cast all for £40.00 - click here for details