Darius Campbell, the strapping Scottish-born Pop Idol alum, is no stranger to stage musicals that arrive with weighty pedigrees. His commanding Rhett Butler was the best thing about director Trevor Nunn’s short-lived 2008 musical version of Gone With the Wind. Now, the 33-year-old actor is inviting comparisons with Burt Lancaster in Tim Rice’s From Here to Eternity, which is set to open on October 23 at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Broadway.com caught up with the articulate Campbell (known previously by the surname Danesh) during previews to talk great expectations, playing Americans and being back on the London stage.
How does it feel to be bringing From Here to Eternity to the stage?
Totally invigorating! It’s extraordinary to be part of the creative process of any new show, but to be part of something as iconic as this, and to be working with some of my heroes, like Sir Tim Rice [the show’s lyricist and co-producer], is amazing.
It’s a title that many associate with the 1953 film, which won eight Academy Awards.
Yes, though we’re certainly not the film on stage. Our show offers the opportunity to open up a story of love and loss and passion to an audience that has no awareness of the film whatsoever.
I gather that the real template for the musical is James Jones’ hefty novel.
That’s right. From Here to Eternity has the distinction of being voted one of the 100 most important novels of all time, and it is certainly a wonderful story. I have learned from working with Tim, and also from successes and misses in the past, that the core of any potentially great show is its story—and we’ve got that with this interweaving of love affairs among the men and women who lived and died in 1941 around the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
You’ve inherited Burt Lancaster’s screen role of First Sergeant Warden. Does this have an air of déjà vu, given that you had to do battle with memories of Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind?
Gone With the Wind feels like a very long time ago in terms of things I’ve done since, like moving into opera and American television. It’s always a double-edged sword when you take on a part that comes with prior associations; at the moment I’m just pleased that the fans I have met at the stage door have just been caught up in the love story of the four central characters and the feeling that they’re watching soldiers on stage. That’s what we like to hear!
The bombing of Pearl Harbor must pose a challenge on stage. How is that being handled?
I can’t give it away other than to tell you that it hasn’t left a dry eye in the house. What is amazing are the advances in technology and sound design that are able to deliver a sense of being attacked by planes from above, behind and overhead! Between that and Javier de Frutos’ incredible choreography and the momentum generated by our director, Tamara Harvey, let’s just say that the moment becomes very special.
Does the story you’re telling have contemporary resonances?
I think it has more relevance to the U.K. than people may realize. Of course, people might wonder why this didn’t open on Broadway first, since American audiences would take much more quickly and passionately to a story about an attack on American soil. But we are surely no less affected here by the shock of what’s happening in Syria and the suicide attacks that affect British soldiers on foreign soil. In much the same way, when Pearl Harbor came, it was a Sunday morning and the soldiers were entirely unprepared. The intelligence was that the attack was going to come from the sea and that there would be plenty of warning, and of course there wasn’t; it came from above.
It must be fascinating working with so seasoned a collaborator as lyricist Tim Rice, alongside fledgling West End composer Stuart Brayson.
I think Stuart’s managed to do something that’s very difficult, which is to write songs that are instantly catchy and popular but that also feel like they could be standards and classics in some way. And Tim, of course, has a great track record of working with wonderful composers. What’s been great is to have a song, “Marking Time,” specifically written for me and my voice and informed by the fact that I’m a low baritone and not a high tenor. There are so many firsts I’ve experienced in the creation of this.
You seem to be cornering the West End market in American roles , from Warden and Rhett Butler to Billy Flynn in Chicago and Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls. Do you feel like a closet American?
I’ve not thought of it that way, but there is a long-standing tradition of great Americans, like Andrew Carnegie, that came from Scottish and Celtic roots. And I have to say that I very much appreciate certain American ideals, particularly the idea that if you work hard and have a vision for something, you can then create it.
Do you pay attention to internet chatter during previews?
I shut all that out, really. For me, it’s about just being honest about the process and acknowledging that so much of an individual response is often out of anyone’s hands, let alone the actors’. Whether someone comes to our show and laughs or cries or is indifferent, we can only try to do our best. I’m just one small part of an incredibly big machine.
Given your background in reality TV, are you amazed to see a show like I Can’t Sing! The X-Factor Musical headed to the West End?
At the moment, what I’m really looking forward is Simon Cowell coming to see From Here To Eternity! [Laughs.] But as far as [The X Factor stage show] is concerned, I think you have to try to find new ways to entertain people and to tell new stories. So I’m all for it.