Urbana man consulting on stage production

Beatings, brawls and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor may seem like unlikely hooks for a musical.

Nevertheless, James Jones' "From Here To Eternity" is coming to a London stage production co-written by "Lion King" co-writer Tim Rice — with some military advice from a rural Urbana man.

The play is scheduled to open Sept. 30 at the Shaftesbury Theater.

Author, Marine and military adviser Ray Elliott grew up in Crawford County, as did Jones, who also authored "The Thin Red Line," another World War II classic.

Jones saw Pearl Harbor firsthand and was wounded at Guadalcanal. He returned to Robinson with possible post-traumatic stress disorder, Elliott says, and made some enemies in his hometown.

Elliott is the author of "Wild Hands Toward the Sky," a post-World War II novel from the point of view of a boy whose father was a Marine killed on Guadalcanal, and "Iwo Blasted Again," a novella about an Iwo Jima veteran and his last 36 hours.

He has served as president of the James Jones Literary Society, which has members all over the world.

Elliott looked over the script, saw early stagings and pointed out when the musical had it wrong, like saluting or calling a sergeant "sir," as well as sharing his expertise on military insignia.

Though he spotted some mistakes, Elliott said he's enthused about the production and hopes it comes to Broadway next year.

Among the things he taught cast members was how to march and carry their arms as it would have been done in 1941.

"They picked it up pretty quick," Elliott said. "They've been professionally trained in dance, so they were good at learning the moves."

Auditions ended this summer, Elliott said. Rehearsals start this month. A lone performer sang music from the play in London's Trafalgar Square the weekend before Elliott visited.

"With the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the recent publication of James Jones' uncensored 'From Here To Eternity' and other of Jones' work (University of Illinois Professor) George Hendrick is editing and is being published and the musical," Elliott said, he believes a "re-emergence of Jones as the pre-eminent author and voice of the enlisted soldiers who fought and died in World War II to preserve our freedom and way of life will once again be recognized."

He noted that Jones continues to influence military veterans who become writers, including Winston Groom, Larry Heinemann and Tim O'Brien.

Elliott, who has made European travels with students in tow, said he has talked with the American Council for International Studies (http://www.acis.com) about tentative plans for a tour that will showcase three plays, probably also including Rice's "The Lion King," the author said.

Elliott's teaching career included a long stint at Urbana High School as an English and journalism teacher.

Topics (4):Books, Music, People, Theater

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