BWW Review: Moonlight Amphitheatre Mounts Gorgeous Rendition of the Rarely Seen TITANIC THE MUSICAL
Despite boasting one of the most gloriously 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 audience and critics. Come to think of it, how entertaining can a musical be about the sinking of the Titanic?
On that fateful day April 15, 1912, 1, 512 people, including passengers and crew, lost their lives. It's difficult for many to sit through a show watching people whose dreams and hopes are about to be dashed for all time. OK, let's put that aside, and look at the show for its unique artistic achievements. Now in a rare revival at Moonlight Amphitheatre, Vista, Titanic the Musical receives a stunningly handsome production under the superb direction of Larry Raben and with one of the most beautifully cast musical ensembles on a California stage, through September 3 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 yet so alike in the presence of tragedy. The world renowned Astors (Paul Morgavo and Emily Gordan), the Strauses, owners of Macy's department store (Ralph Johnson and Susan Stuber), card shark Charlotte Cardoza (Christine Hewitt), J. Bruce Ismay, owner and director of the ship (Steven Glaudini), and Thomas Andrews, builder of Titanic (Robert J. Townsend) are but a few of the first class who are forced to put themselves on a level with the second class Beanes (Greg Nicholas and Bets Malone) and third class Irish lass Kate McGowan (Katie Sapper) who, with child, faces life in America as a ladies' maid without a husband and protector. Stone and Yeston ingeniously interweave all of these stories through dialogue and song. At one moment in Act One we are in the ship's saloon eating dinner with the Astors at Captain E. J. Smith's (Norman Large) table, then in the boiler room with stoker Frederick Barrett (Richard Bermudez) and next on deck with Alice Beane (Malone) peering through the port hole at the filthy rich as they dine and schmooze.
Projection design by Jonathan Infante is a brilliant contribution to this production. From the top we see actual photographs of the ocean liner leaving port in Southhampton, as it moves out to sea on its maiden voyage. The pictures definitely enhance our perception especially in the later scenes as Titanic approaches the fateful iceberg ... and even more so in Act Two to get a realistic vision as passengers board the lifeboats and those left behind must struggle to stand upward as the ship sinks. We can use our imagination as the plank tilts downward and passengers slip or the beverage cart moves aimlessly across stage, but these projections behind really assist in bringing the tragedy to full, vivid life before our eyes.
Director Raben's big, sprawling staging - using every area of the amphitheatre stage including off stage areas - gives proper dimension to the proceedings, and his entire cast are simply divine. Large, Glaudini, and Townsend as the Captain, director and builder respectively, work together skillfully and passionately as they bicker and blame one another for Titanic's demisE. Johnson and Stuber are precious as the Strauses, so loyal to each other right to the end; Hewitt is a standout in a small role as Cardoza, making the character memorable; Malone as Alice Beane is endearing and delightfully amusing in her fearless attempts to change her lot; Sapper is delightfully brazen as McGowan and Richard Bermudez utterly amazing as Barrett with his magnificent tenor voice. I have seen this actor grow over the last few years into an astounding performer.
Bravo to this 37 member ensemble for a job well done! Kudos as well to the grande 26 member orchestra under the baton of Elan McMahan. Jean-Yves Tessier's lighting design is magnificent, as are period costumes coordinated and executed by Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd and Carlotta Malone. Karl Warden did a splendid job with extra choreography. Set design, uncredited, is expansive from the captain's bridge above to the deck railings stages left and right. And once again an enormous thanks to J. Infante for his vibrant projections that enhance the storyline so brilliantly.
Take a ride to Vista and see this glorious rendition of the rarely seen Titanic the Musical! It is so visually and vocally uplifting with some of the best choral singing around. Both inspiring music and engrossing book will carry you to new unexpected heights. This is truly another feather in the cap of the artistic directors of Moonlight Amphitheatre, who deserve much praise for their consistently fine theatrical endeavors.