Titanic: A New Musical is an excellent ensemble work
Book by Peter Stone. Music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. Directed and choreographed by Max Reimer. Musical direction by Kevin Michael Cripps. A Theatre Under the Stars Production. At Malkin Bowl on Tuesday, July 10. Continues in rep until August 17
Like the ship that inspired it, Titanic: A New Musical is a big show. Fortunately, the performance stays afloat for the duration of its voyage.
Peter Stone and Maury Yeston’s musical premiered in 1997, the same year that James Cameron’s Oscar-winning film hit the screen. But while Cameron fabricated a central love story to hook us in, Stone and Yeston aim to give a more expansive picture of life on the ship. This version is more democratic, if less emotionally engaging, than Cameron’s, but the story is sketched in pretty broad strokes. Characterizations are slender at best, and the play hammers home its theme of blind faith in progress: almost everyone with a line gets to say “It’s a new world” at some point.
The cast is huge, and although director Max Reimer’s team of 44 includes only a handful of professionals, everyone does solid work. Among the standouts are Sayer Roberts, who brings a physical assuredness and gorgeous, velvety tenor to the part of Barrett, a stoker in the engine room; Alexander Nicoll as telegraph operator Harold Bride, so comically infatuated with radio technology that he sings it a love song; and Michelle Bardach, a feisty and likable single woman using the trip to find a husband.
More often than not, though, Titanic is an ensemble piece, and this production owes a great deal of its success to Kevin Michael Cripps’s outstanding musical direction. It’s not often that you get to hear more than three dozen voices in heart-stopping choral arrangements; there are several of them here, running the emotional gamut from triumphant to mournful, and they are sublime. Under Cripps, the 21-piece orchestra never falters.
The show looks fantastic, too. Set designer Lauchlin Johnston’s use of railings, stairways, and platforms keeps the ship’s various locations from getting confusing, and his video projections add texture and detail. Chris Sinosich’s costumes effectively delineate class distinctions; her lavish rainbow of ball gowns for the ladies of first class is a visual treat. Gerald King’s sculpted lighting adds to the poignancy of the tragedy.
The ending is no surprise, but 100 years after the fact, it is still affecting.