BWW Review: TITANIC THE MUSICAL at Broad Brook Opera House
Though the primary focus is on the people on board, TITANIC THE MUSICAL is also very much about the ship. The play begins with the boarding of the ship and in song, the audience learns about the sheer size of the vessel and all of the provisions that come aboard from the massive amounts of dry goods and produce to Renault Motor Car. However it is when the passengers arrive that the play begins to take shape. We meet the staff and crew including Captain E.J. Smith (Dennis J. Scott), J. Bruce Ismay (Tim Reilly), the owner of the Titanic, and Thomas Andrews (Stephen Jewell), her builder. These three form a central trio that guides the fate of the ship. We are also introduced to a stoker, Frederick Barrett (Michael Graham Morales), Radioman Harold Bride (Randy Davidson) and the many officers and servants on the ship. The third class arrives, including a trio of Kates - McGowan Jennifer MacPherson), Murphey (Emily Smith), and Mullins (Katie Harden) each with dreams of a better life. They are followed by the second class including Edgar Beane (Paul DiProto) and his wife Alice (Tara Kennedy) who is truly enamored by the upper class with whom they are sailing. Finally we meet those millionaires and their guests - the Strauses (Glenn Gordon and Jayne Newirth), the Astors (Andrew D. Secker and Emily Smith), Benjamin Guggenheim (Shaun O'Keefe) and many others. The audience then begins to see each of their stories play out in scene and song, and in turn begin to care about each of these people - all leading up to the dramatic climax of the play (spoiler alert - the ship sinks.)
With a cast of over twenty performers, there are too many strong performances to call all of them out, but a few highlights for me were the following: Tara Kennedy, as the aristocratically obsessed Alice owns the stage whenever she is present. She is earnest, funny and is one of the characters I truly connected with and felt sad for when the tragic ending finally arrived. As the trio of Smith, Ismay and Andrews - Scott, Reilly and Jewell were extremely strong, especially when it came time to pass "The Blame." Mr. Morales as Barrett and Mr. Davidson as Bride had some strong and touching scenes, especially in "The Proposal/The Night Was Alive." Finally, as Henry Etches, the 1st Class Steward, Danny Viets provides a true range of emotion first as a fussy butler type and in the end as a representation of the brave and stalwart people who were left to their fate as the ship sank into the frozen waters.
Overall, the artistic direction by Sharon FitzHenry works extremely well in the small Broad Brook Opera House space. As she notes in the program, there would be no way to take on the massive scale of the original Broadway production, so instead she has focused on the people - sharing their very human struggle on this fateful night 104 years ago. Speaking of the set, as designed by Ms. FitzHenry and Francisco Aguas, the set is simple but quite effective, with pieces that maneuver into place easily and which provide just the right amount of context so you don't forget the nautical setting of the show. The central design includes blueprints of the ship, which allow the audience to imagine the size and scale in the small space. The lighting (also by Ms. Fitzhenry) is really creative with small lights on the backdrop that work to provide the haunting image of the lights going out as the ship sinks. Moonyean Field's costumes are perfect for the period and are beautiful, especially the gowns and couture of the upper class. Finally, the orchestra is quite strong, and with just four musicians provide the illusion of a larger ensemble. Bill Martin does a great job directing the orchestra (and in his role as Musical Director.)
All in all, TITANIC THE MUSICAL is an emotional, yet enjoyable journey that audiences will find entertaining, educational, and touching in a number of ways. It is a bit ironic that the play runs almost exactly as long as it took the Titanic to sink (2 hours and 40 minutes), but it is time well spent. The music is beautiful, the cast quite strong, and the production well directed and delivered. So, even if you think you know all about the sinking of the Titanic and the stories of its passengers, I encourage you to buy a ticket (don't worry, no first/second/third class seats) and head to Broad Brook and set sail with TITANIC THE MUSICAL.