BWW Review: SRO's TITANIC: THE MUSICAL Avoids Icebergs
As he walked out of the Columbus Performing Arts Center after viewing SRO's production of TITANIC: THE MUSICAL, one of the patrons turned to his friend and joked, "Wow, I never saw that ending coming."
While it is true the story of the ill-fated voyage of the "unsinkable" Titanic has been told and re-told many times over, SRO's latest presentation of the story strikes a solid chord with the audience. Written by Peter Stone with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, the two-act, two-and-a-half-hour musical creates as much tension and intrigue to keep the audience engaged even though they know the ending.
Directed by Kristofer Green and conducted by David McKibben, SRO's production runs Feb. 16-25 at the Columbus Performing Arts Center's Van Fleet Theatre (549 Franklin Avenue in downtown Columbus).
The musical debuted on Broadway in 1997 and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. Fans of the movie TITANIC will be disappointed to learn there's no Rose or Heart of the Ocean in this production. Instead, Stone's script discusses several themes associated with the disaster including the failure of modern technology and the separation of the classes. Both contributed to the downfall of the Titanic. The designer of the vessel, the captain and the crew believed the ship was so watertight that "even God couldn't sink her." As a result, the ship didn't have enough lifeboats on board to save everyone. The issue of class also contributed to the disaster. The working-class passengers are kept separate from the Astors and the other industrial elites on the ship. In many cases, they are doomed by their caste and location of their cabins.
SRO's production features a large, talented cast of 26 players with many slipping easily into two or three different characters. Not only does each class have its own deck but they seem to have their own song in the show. The upper class, led by J.J. Astor (played by Thor Collard) and his wife Madeleine (Kara Hancock) and Macy's Department store founder Isidor Straus (Paul Lee) and his wife Ida (Wendy Cohen) and Benjamin Guggenheim (William Macke) marvel over the ship as one of society's crowning achievements in "What Remarkable Age This Is!": Remarkable things flow endlessly from out the human brain!/ Indeed and what a remarkable age this is!"
Far beneath them, the third-class passengers dream of immigrating from Ireland and England to America to move up the pecking order. Among the dreamers are three Kates -- Kate Murphey (also played by Hancock), Kate Mullins (Grace Rinehart) and Kate McGowan (Kristen Basore), who combine with the rest of the third class passengers for the bitterly ironic "Lady's Maid" -- Oh, far beyond the Northern sea, a new life can unfold ... Where my dreamin' and my hopin' and my schemin' And my prayin and my wishin' to be happy Will come true enough."
Alice (Ciera Bierbaugh) and Edgar Beane (Scott Clay) are caught in the middle of the three decks but Alice desperately schemes to escape to the first-class world and rub elbows with the world's elite. However, every time she does, she is caught by purser Henry Etches (Weston McAloney) and escorted back to where she belongs.
McAloney is part of a talented core that make up the ship's crew. Bill Hafner has a soaring baritone and does a great job capturing the dual nature of J. Bruce Ismay, who is both ambitious and cowardly at the same time. Keith Robinson is convincing is his portrayal of the stoic Captain E.J. Smith and Collard seamlessly shifts gears between roles as Astor and overwhelmed second-in-command Murdoch. Johnny Robison seems to ping-pong through his four different roles, but in the end, his strong suit comes as a wide-eyed bellboy on a doomed voyage.
With a cast as big as this one and a supporting 11-piece orchestra, SRO made the wise decision to keep the stage down to its bare bones. It made the most of its small props. Shortly after the ship struck the iceberg, the passengers refuse life jackets, believing in the craft's unsinkable claim. However, when they witness a table go sliding across the stage to signify the boat's beginning to sink, the mood swifts from overconfidence to fear as they scramble for the life preservers.
Like the Titanic, the SRO production had one fatal flaw in its Feb. 15 preview. The show was set in the Van Fleet Theatre, the Columbus Performing Arts Center's black box stage. At times in the first act, it seemed as if the orchestra and the powerful voices were competing for equal time, especially in the anthemic songs like "Godspeed Titanic." Yeston's lyrics were often getting swept out to seas by a barrage of brass and the thunder of drums.
If SRO can get that corrected, the show should have smooth sailing for the rest of its run.
TITANIC: THE MUSICAL will be presented 8 p.m. Feb. 16-17 and 23-24 with 2 p.m. matinees on Feb. 18 and 25 and special 10:30 a.m. show on Feb. 23 at the Columbus Performing Arts Center's Van Fleet Theatre (549 Franklin Avenue). For ticket information, contact SRO at 614-427-3324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.