Colleen McGuirk & Lora Johnson in Titanic: the Musical. Photo: Theatreworks of SOIN.
Titanic: The Musical
Music & lyrics by Maury Yeston
Book by Peter Stone
Directed by Chris Bundy
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
More than 100 years after the fateful day in 1912, the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic continues to fascinate us. The ship that even God could not sink. This 1997 musical version of the story won several Tony Awards, including Best Musical. (It also included Louisville native Erin Hill in the original cast).
Peter Stone’s book covers the facts and historical characters: Captain E. J. Smith (Richard Ryan), White Star Line executive J. Bruce Ismay (Chris Haulter), and Titanic designer Thomas Andrews (Curtis Becht), Upper Crust passengers John Jacob Astor (Tyler Dippold) and his wife (Colleen McGuirk), and Benjamin Guggenheim (Johnathan Jackson), but gets more emotional mileage out of fictional characters among the 2nd and 3rd class passengers.
Titanic: The Musical relies entirely on our familiarity with the history of the tragedy for its narrative momentum, giving snapshots of characters and relationships through brief scenes and songs that are lyrically inventive but musically repetitive. The score weaves an effective spell while we are watching, but it is less memorable once we leave the theatre. The best moments are the magnificent opening sequence of five songs, culminating in “Godspeed Titanic”, and even though there are several strong solos throughout the evening, it is the choral work from the large ensemble (Musical Direction by Hannegan Roseberry) that is most impressive.
If you have seen any other Titanic story, especially James Cameron’s Academy-Award winning movie, no synopsis is necessary. Although I am a fan of that film, this production proves you don’t need James Cameron or expensive production values to tell this story; whatever the deficiencies of the material, director Chris Bundy’s staging scores on all counts. He has gathered as fine a collection of singing voices as I can recall seeing in any company in the area. The scenic design answers the question of how to represent a massive ocean liner on such a modest stage, using open space suggestive of the long decks, with three panels upon which we see extensive projections that illustrate the breadth and range of the “city on the sea” with a rich mix of historical photographs, film, and artist’s renderings of the disaster. (All beautifully managed by Kota Earnhardt). Vicki Hays’ costumes are also on target.
Amy Harpenau’s choreography was good, and she had one of the standout characters in Alice Beane, giving herself a dance showcase in “Doing the Latest Rag”, which was a rare moment where the score broke character to show some upbeat energy.
We love the Titanic because it is a massive, easily romanticized tragedy that cuts to the heart of the folly of hubris. It was a moment of amazing overreach and arrogance, and a reminder of how easily we embrace a class system that does not place the same value on all human life. Titanic: The Musical effectively captures all of these elements.
Finally, I have observed local theatre companies mount ambitious musicals by attempting to emulate the New York or touring productions, often to underwhelming effect. Titanic: The Musical on Broadway was a big-budget affair that, in spite of all of the awards, may not have made a profit – exactly the sort of extravaganza that local companies cannot hope to recreate. Theatreworks of Southern Indiana’s production, however, is a case study in substituting creativity and ingenuity for special effects and elaborate sets and is arguably a more satisfying entertainment for exactly those reasons.
Featuring: Richard Ryan, Chris Haulter, Curtis Becht, Marcus Fisher, David Neal, Phillip Hubbard, Josh O’Brien, Ken Robinson, Johnathan Jackson, Tyler Dippold, Jared Burton, Henry Fisher, William Strauss, Sharon Krupski Grabowski, Jeanne Marie Rogers, Olivia Meyer Wohar, Cathy Ryan, Lora Anderson, Colleen McGuirk, Megan Kubac, Mark Merk, Amy Harpenau, Jared Burton, Katherine Haulter, Kalee Johnson.
Titanic: The Musical
April 4-7, 11-14 @ 7:30pm
April 7-8, 14-15 @ 2:00pm
$16 Adults / $13 Seniors/Students
Theatreworks of Southern Indiana
203 East Main Street
New Albany, IN 47150
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.