BWW Review: An Emotionally Gripping TITANIC THE MUSICAL at Candlelight Pavilion
Titanic the Musical/story and book by Peter Stone/music and lyrics by Maury Yeston/directed by Chuck Ketter/musical director: Andrew Orbison/Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre, Claremont/through February 23
In spite of the fact that it has one of the most majestic musical scores ever written for a Broadway stage by Maury Yeston in 1997, Titanic the Musical was, no pun intended, a disaster with lukewarm reception from both audiences and critics. Come to think of it, how entertaining can a musical be about the sinking of the Titanic? People were repelled by the thought of sitting through a show about a real life tragedy; those who did see it had to agree how great a show it really was. It went on to win five Tony Awards including Best Musical.
Historically, on that fateful day April 15, 1912, 1, 512 people, including passengers and crew, lost their lives. It's an engagingly emotional experience to watch actors portray people whose dreams and hopes are about to be dashed for all time. That intimate attachment to the characters is one of Titanic's unique artistic achievements. Now in a rare revival at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre in Claremont, Titanic the Musical receives a handsome production under the skilled direction of Chuck Ketter and featuring a stellar musical ensemble, now through February 23 only.
Verging on opera, Maury Yeston's score has one of the most compellingly dramatic overtures I can think of, and Peter Stone's book is most winning in its realistic depiction of passengers from first, second and third class, so different in lifestyle, yet the same as they face impending doom. The world renowned Strauses (Jamie Snyder and Samantha Wynn Greenstone) owners of Macy's department store, J. Bruce Ismay, owner and director of the ship (Greg Nicholas), and Thomas Andrews, builder of Titanic (Jeffrey Warden) are but a few of the first class who are forced to put themselves on a level with the second class Beanes (Matt Carvin and Sarah Meals) and third class Irish lass Kate McGowan (Catie Marron) who faces life in America as a ladies' maid without a husband and protector. Book writer Peter Stone and musical composer Maury Yeston ingeniously interweave all of their stories through dialogue and song. At one moment in Act One we are in the ship's salon eating dinner with the Strauses at Captain E. J. Smith's (Marc Montminy) table, then in the boiler room with stoker Frederick Barrett (Gregg Hammer) and next on deck with Alice Beane (Meals) peering through the port hole at the filthy rich as they dine and live it up. All of these characters are based on the real passengers of the Titanic, some bearing the actual names. Some passengers like the Astors and Miss Cardoza, the card shark, have been cut from the script to trim down the length of the show.
Of course, the Candlelight stage is not expansive enough to properly utilize incredible special effects.The limitations allow us to use our imagination as we see the plank tilt downward and watch the beverage cart move aimlessly across the stage. One thing I do believe could have enhanced the production is the use of some rear view projections to show footage of the real maiden voyage and especially a glimpse of the gigantic iceberg that lay ahead at the finale of Act One.
On the other hand, Candlelight has a live six piece orchestra this time around under the baton of Andrew Orbison . This element adds sensationally to the presentation of the instrumental music and all of the songs as the musicians back up the strong chorus of players. There's nothing quite like a live orchestra onstage!
Director Ketter's full staging gives proper dimension to the proceedings, and his entire cast are first rate. Montminy, Nicholas and Warden as the Captain, director and builder respectively, work together skillfully and passionately as they bicker and blame one another for Titanic's demise. Greenstone and Snyder are precious as the Strauses, so loyal to each other right to the end; Meals is endearing particularly with Alice Beane's brazen attempts to change her lot; Marron is wonderful as the fearless McGowan, and Hammer amazes us as Barrett with his lovely tenor voice. I am always overwhelmed with tears as I hear the fugue "The Proposal/The Night Was Alive" delivered by Barrett and the telegraph operator Harold Bride, played with perfect nervous energy by Gavin Juckette.
Bravo as well to fine lighting design by Jonathan Daroca, to Costume World Theatrical for lovely period costumes and to Dylan Pass for lively choreography. Director Ketter is responsible as well for the great set design.
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Act One at Candlelight is the dinner, always divine, and the waiters on staff are friendly and ultra efficient. The special $6 drinks are delicious. My choice was the "Fare-Thee-Well" served over ice in a sangria glass. Others include "The Maiden Voyage" and for Irish coffee lovers,"The Lifeboat".
Titanic The Musical is a powerful musical show that should not be missed, through February 23. Next on the agenda is No No Nanette which will run from March 1 to April 13. Make early reservations, as the majority of shows sell out well in advance.