BWW Review: Affecting and Effective TITANIC at Portland Players
To close its 2017-2018 season Portland Player's has mounted one of its most ambitious productions in recent memory. Titanic The Musical with book by Peter Stone and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston receives an affecting and effective performance by the forty-nine actors and thirteen musicians.
Stone's book is notable for its well-delineated characters and his ability to maintain the aura of tension despite the fact that the audience knows what course the tragedy will take. Yeston's virtually through-composed score is haunting with elements of minimalist dissonance alternating with moments of memorable melody. Textured harmonically, and layered with complex precision especially in the ensemble scenes, the work achieves a richness of tonal color and contrast, while the lyrics, too, are often penetrating and poignant. Evan Cuddy leads the on stage orchestra in a virtuoso performance, keeping the tempi perfect and the balance even.
Michael Donovan directs and does a masterful job of blocking the huge cast in the limited confines of the Players stage. He opts for shifting tableaux which reflect the layers of music and mood and, for the most part, move seamlessly through the action, creating, especially in the second act, the haze of memory. The single dance number, "Doing the Latest Rag," is a nod to musical tradition, though it seems a little jarring to the flow. Donovan has designed the set as well and wisely opts for a basic series of platforms and railings that add levels to the stage picture while suggesting the decks of the ship. The orchestra behind a gray-blue skrim gives the feeling of oceanic expanse, sea fog, and a hint of impending doom, all this aided by Jason "Chachi" Robinson's atmospheric lighting.
Louise Keezer designs the colorful array of period costumes - elegant ensembles for the first class passengers, less elaborate but still attractive ensembles for the second class, all contrasted with the simple look and neutral palette of the third class. Sound designer Samuele Rinaldi does his utmost with the perennially problematic acoustic of the playhouse with its dead spots and microphones that blur text.
The cast coalesces into an amazing ensemble with each member bringing individuality and insight to his/her role. It wiuld be impossible to cite every arresting moment, as all of the principals have opportunities to tell their story in scene and song. Among the strong vocal/dramatic performances are Jason Philips as an anguished Thomas Andrews (the ship's design engineer), Reggie Groff as a dictatorial J.Bruce Ismay, Darrell Leighton as the guilt-ridden Captain Smith, and Jonathan Carr as Henry Etches, the veteran first class steward whose ultimate dignity matches the magnitude of the tragedy. The first class passengers with well-known surnames are all portrayed sympathetically despite their entitlement. Especially effective are Jessica Libby and Jeff Campbell as the Astors and Nancy Durgin and James Ferreira as Ida and IUsador Straus, who sing an affecting duet afyer making the decision to go down with the ship together. Whitney Brown as the celebrity struck Alice Beane and L. John Van Norden as her dismayed husband Edgar contribute several very human moments. As kate McGowan Kelly Mosher proves an indomitable survivor with J.D. Raines as Jim Farrell her sympathetic fiancé. Luke Perry adds some intense moments as the stoker Fred Barrett while Dan Neuville as the despairing radio man Harold Bride adds some melancholy reflective ones in the final scenes. Finally, Schuyler White as band singer Wallace Hartley uses his fine voice to sing a sad and haunting"Autumn."
Titanic is a huge undertaking for any theatre company, and Portland Players is to be congratulated for taking the risk and succeeding so admirably.
Photos courtesy Portland Players, Linwood Leland, Tommy Waltz, photographers
Titanic The Musical runs at Portland Players from May 18 - June 3, 2018. www.portlandplayers.org 207-799-7337