REVIEW: "Titanic the Musical" – JD Theatricals @Attic Community Theatre
“Fare-thee-well my darlin'…I'll be back before a fortnight has passed!”
On April 10, 1912, a modern marvel called the R.M.S. Titanic set sail on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York with more than 2,200 crew and passengers.
As everyone knows from history, the “unsinkable” Titanic hit an enormous iceberg and sank just five days later, taking more than 1,500 people to their deaths in the frigid Atlantic Ocean.
The roster of casualties included some of the world’s wealthiest businesspeople, the ship’s designer, the ship’s captain, the majority of the crew, as well as most of the second and third class passengers who simply dreamed of beginning a better life in the New World.
Eighty-five years later, a musical collaboration between Peter Stone, who wrote the literate story and book, and Maury Yeston (“Nine,” “Grand Hotel,” “Phantom”), who contributed the mesmerizing score and lyrics, told the tale of the ill-fated Titanic in a musical format. But this is not a stage adaptation of the James Cameron film Titanic, that daunting epic with Jack and Rose, and neither is there a Celine Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On.”
Although the Broadway musical actually opened the same year as the blockbuster film in 1997, there is no connection at all. The musical went on to win five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score with its lavish arrangement resounding against giant halls of theatre.
But while the original Broadway version of the show was a high-budget, big production mega-musical, complete with staged special effects and hydraulics, the current adapted production, “Titanic the Musical” is a great deal more modest, many times called a chamber musical, and ideally suited for the grand scope of any accommodating stage.
The show’s debut production at JD Theatricals @ The Attic Community Theatre, which opened August 9th, has been a rousing success and is now playing in its final week at the intimate theatre, with the final performance this Sunday, September 1st.
Starting off with several glorious opening numbers, “There She Is,” “Loading Inventory,” and “The Largest Floating Object in the World,“ J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Line, portrayed by Eric Hindley, is among many who sings of mankind’s most wondrous achievements through the ages as passengers board the Titanic for its maiden voyage.
It’s a superb, textbook musical theatre opening that sets the tone for the show while also introducing the audience to the characters, allowing each to convey their driving motivation. Performers move up and down the aisles of the auditorium, creating a sense of buzz and energy as the ship launches to the ensemble singing “Godspeed Titanic.” The excitement is palpable, the scene execution essentially perfect.
Director Kathy Paladino deserves much commendation for keeping the story somber and joyful, grave and entertaining, while steaming ahead in highly focused fashion, propelled on the strength of Yeston’s indomitable score and musical numbers that underpins the myriad human stories unfolding aboard ship. Center-stage are big themes about class, immigration and aristocratic ostentation in a plot that’s often gripping and emotionally captivating.
Interestingly, and wisely, set designer Jiff Huffman doesn’t go “overboard,” so to speak, with his scenic design, incorporating a series of imposing backdrop panels, elevated walkways, white railings, compartmented rooms and cabin doors that presents the majesty of the Titanic in a one-dimensional appearance, complemented with judicious use of the set as the various decks of the ship, the bridge, the radio room and engine room.
The cast seems expressly rehearsed and smooth in its delivery of lines and song. While the primary star is the tragic history of the Titanic itself, Director Paladino, aided by Assistant Director Matt Koutrolis, extracts an impressive set of performances from some forty players on the intimate stage at Attic Community Theatre, dozens of which help convey the sheer size and scope of the passenger rolls and crew capacity. Numerous mentions of the "ship of dreams" alongside some of the musical numbers echo the constant theme of yearning for a better life. The other prevailing theme is one of guilt, as regrets and choices evolve into accusations and blame.
Long-time local favorite William Crisp (“Cabaret,” “Drowsy Chaperone”) brings wisdom, leadership and commanding presence to the role of Captain E.J. Smith, who ironically postponed his retirement after 43 years of service until the maiden voyage of the Titanic was to have concluded.
David Blair is the heroically flawed ship designer, Thomas Andrews, who clashes constantly with the vain, pompous owner J. Bruce Ismay, played in appropriately smarmy, intolerable fashion by Mr. Hindley.
Judy Mina-Ballard (“Sweeney Todd,” “Moon Over Buffalo”) is a sheer delight as the celebrity-gawking Alice Beane, the social-climbing-wannabe wife of successful Indianapolis hardware store owner Edgar Beane (Gary Severn). The couple (both polished artists) effectively captures the exhilaration of Mrs. Beane while etching her husband’s contentment with the lives they lead. The impressive Rich Wordes plays wealthy proprietor Isidor Straus, founder of Macy’s Department Stores, in fine fashion alongside the determined performance of Beverly Crain as Straus’ devoted wife, Ida. Their story is easily the emotional highlight of the show, especially when Ida refuses to leave her husband behind on the sinking ship (“Still”).
Versatile performer Angie Watson (“Piece of My Heart,” “5.50”) does splendid work, dressed to the nines, as flamboyant widow Charlotte Cardoza, and the consummate Matt Koutrolis shines in a double-role as Pitman and the buffoonish Major who fills each of his dreary stories of imperialism with references to “hordes of godless savages.” I’m reasonably sure I saw Mr. Koutrolis play a number of other characters on ship as well, although uncredited.
There also are exemplary performances by Randall Goddard as the skittish second-in-command, 1st Officer Murdoch as well as Hartley; Jesse Atkinson as fiery ship stoker Frederick Barrett; Garrett Chandler as overworked radioman Harold Bride; Randy Calcetas as the meticulous 1st Class Steward Henry Etches; Keith Morton as lookout Frederick Fleet; Sebastian Sofa as Quartermaster Hichens; Lane Kunce as the famously rich John Jacob Astor and Sierra Henderson as his second and much younger wife Madeleine; James Gomez as Benjamin Guggenheim; Zach Hillman as aspiring journalist Charles Clarke and Jessica Arcuri as his vocal fiancée, Caroline Neville; Colin Eaton, Jennifer Walquist and Owen Lovejoy as the Thayer family.
The Three Kates: Victoria Serra as impoverished and intrepid Irish lass Kate McGowen (also playing Mrs. Damico), smitten by a young traveling man named Jim Farrell, depicted by Cameron Murray. Kate Mullins is played by Brooke Lewis, and the role of Kate Murphey is by Sophie Huisken. The Three Kates are sweetly featured in several numbers, “I Must Get on That Ship,” “Lady’s Maid,” and “The Staircase.”
Jackie Melbon’s choreography brings vibrant accompaniment to Yeston’s sturdy score, which sometimes delves into light operatic elements that the likes of Mr. Atkinson in the haunting ballad, “Barrett’s Song,” handle with flair. Other rousing, upbeat tunes such as “The 1st Class Roster” which Ms. Mina-Ballard and Mr. Koutrolis champions with fun-loving exuberance helps balance the show’s somber leitmotif.
The sweeping music, constantly playing in the background by Mr. Hulsey, creates dramatic moments and brims with heady emotion throughout, with much of it exploring the underlying theme of class struggle. Various couples proclaim their love through song with consistently strong performances that really elevate the material thanks much to the brilliant ensemble harmonies.
Susan Girardi, along with her costume crew, provides a wide array of costuming for the various strata of folks aboard. Each class of passenger represents well its own status and degree of privilege in a fresh new age of dramatic social and political climate, embracing segregation by social standing. John McQuay contributes inculpable Sound Design and Jim Huffman and Jordan Broberg’s Lighting Design is dazzling and accentuated in perfect shades, shadows and sheens. The Producer of the show is Albert M. Shifberg-Mencher and is Stage Managed by Jordan Broberg; Projections are by Victoria Serra and Photography is by Stephanie Garrison.
Additional cast members include Anthony Fria as Lightoller, Avi Spitzer as Boxhall & Rogers, Aaron Pelt as the Bellboy, Alexandra Walsh as Mme. Aubert, Wayne Arnold as George Widener & Carlson, Tiffany McQuay as Eleanor Widener, Patty Zantos as Edith Corse Evans, and Stewards/Stewardesses Maddy Ciulla, Laura Miller, Mabel Schreffler, Mark Bruce-Casares, Marty Miller and Seth Weiner.
Of course, we all know the ending of this story. The Titanic will go on forever as a symbol of European industrial arrogance. It was at the time the greatest nautical disaster in history – “the largest moving thing on Earth.” Experts agreed that it was just too big to sink. Now, even the very word “Titanic” has become synonymous with disasters of the most colossal kind.
When the wreckage of the Titanic was eventually found in 1985 by Robert Ballard and his crew, it was discovered that RMS Titanic did indeed break in half before she sank. Moreover the two halves of the ship were found at considerable distance from each other on the ocean floor.
Most experts now think that the glancing blow with the iceberg put such great pressure on the iron rivets holding several sections of the hull plates together that they popped out, allowing ingress of water, which gradually rose up to the top of the bulkheads, flowing from one watertight compartment to the next. As this happened, the weight of the incoming seawater pushed the bow of the ship further down, causing the ship’s stern to rise up out of the water and expose her propeller blades.
As the bow of the ship sank deeper into the water, the stern lifted up out of the water at an ever steeper angle until eventually, the hull split in two pieces. The forward part of the ship broke off completely and sank first. The action of the ship shearing in two caused the aft end of the ship to upright itself vertically in the water, before it too eventually slid down into the depths.
711 passengers survived in the lifeboats. But as the oceanliner upended, many people fell in the frigid waters, which was only about 28 degrees. At those temperatures, hypothermia starts to set in in about 15 minutes, and death in about 30.
Beautiful, tragic, and quite moving, JD Theatricals @ Attic Community Theatre presents this chamber version of “Titanic the Musical” in as grand and majestic fashion as the ill-fated liner herself, and stands as a wonderful tribute to the 1517 who perished on 14 April, 1912. If there is one musical you should see this summer – it is this one! Tickets may still be available. Go to: https://attictheater.weebly.com/
The Show Report