Sailing the Ship of Dreams at MSMT: David Girolmo and Ian Knauer Talk TITANIC

MSMT Opens 2023 Season with TITANIC

By: May. 31, 2023
Sailing the Ship of Dreams at MSMT: David Girolmo and Ian Knauer Talk TITANIC

“The music and the story are moving, compelling, beautiful, funny, and this particular telling is unique because it utilizes incredible technology not previously available,” says actor Ian Knauer, who plays the Titanic’s first officer William Murdoch, in the spectacular new production that opens Maine State Music Theatre’s 2023 season at the Pickard Theater on June 7th.

“The score is so majestic,” agrees David Girolmo who portrays Captain Edward J. Smith. “Maury Yeston wrote these spectacular, soaring melodies.  And even though our orchestration is arranged to fit the theatre’s size, the large cast with so many Broadway singers delivers this amazing assault of gorgeous sound.”

Knauer continues, “Yeston has a wonderful way of putting notes together into a beautiful lyric line. There are these thrilling moments when almost the entire company is singing straight out to the audience, like in the opening number, ‘The Launching.’”

Girolmo concurs: “Singing ‘Sail on, great ship, Titanic’ is incredible.  That first ten minutes of the show as the passengers are boarding and the crew is preparing to get the ship off the dock is stunning!”

Sailing the Ship of Dreams at MSMT: David Girolmo and Ian Knauer Talk TITANIC
Ian Knauer

Both Girolmo and Knauer, whose resumes include extensive Broadway, other New York, Chicago, and regional credits, are also no strangers to Brunswick.  Knauer was recently seen here as the Tin Man in THE WIZARD OF OZ and Sam in MAMMA MIA!, while Girolmo played the Cowardly Lion in WIZARD OF OZ and Horace Vandergelder in HELLO,DOLLY! in recent seasons. They have just completed a month-long run of the MSMT/Fulton’s co-production of TITANIC in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and are eager to bring it to Maine for its next run.  Says Knauer, “Previously, I have only seen a video wall like the one we are using on Broadway.  It is spectacular!”

Girolmo opines: “MSMT and the Fulton understand that doing a co-production allows them to do this level of work. There is a massive video wall stage wide and stage high that gives the audience an actual picture of the boat, the interiors, the staterooms, and the bridge so that the audience has a very specific sense of place.  And the collaboration between lighting designer Paul Black and video designer Jorge Cousineau is magnificent.”

“The lighting allows our director Marc Robin to focus on the individual moments and performers,” adds Knauer. 

Both actors observe that this new MSMT production of TITANIC will be vastly different from the production the company had mounted in 2000.  Not only has technology become infinitely more advanced and sophisticated, but Knauer and Girolmo feel that director Marc Robin’s vision is an unique one. Girolmo praises Robin: “Marc is the most hopeful, caring, generous person to work with, and that imbues every moment of this show, even the darker ones. His imprint on the piece is always positive.”

“In terms of telling the story,” Knauer explains, “Marc focuses on people’s lives, their passions, their loves, how they help each other for the most part.  It is much more personal than other productions.”

“Everyone knows that the Titanic struck an iceberg and went down,” says Girolmo.  “What is important for our audience is who lives and who dies, how they survive or die, We get to find out.  There are so many amazing individual stories to be told – of the staff and crew who stayed on the ship and did their best to save as many people as possible, of the second-class passengers hoping for a spot in the lifeboats, and of the third-class passengers hoping against hope.”

Sailing the Ship of Dreams at MSMT: David Girolmo and Ian Knauer Talk TITANIC
David Girolmo

The actors talk about their research to prepare for a show about such legendary events and real historical characters.  Knauer says he went to the Titanic exhibition in New York which he found extremely “sobering.”  And he thinks his own experience performing on cruise ships gave him a context that helps “tell the story as truthfully as possible.” Girolmo recalls doing a great deal of reading about Captain Smith and says that while there is much documented about the events of his life, there is little written about his personality. And so, after reading and research, Knauer, Girolmo, and the cast must construct their own concept of character and take their clues from the piece itself.

Knauer talks about how Yeston’s Murdoch, who is the officer on the bridge when the Titanic struck the iceberg, appears to go into shock.  “I understand that this works dramatically for the piece, though I am not sure how true it is historically. He feels an incredible amount of guilt and responsibility, though he is not the only one to blame.”

Tremendous guilt assails Captain Smith as well. Girolmo says, “Ultimately, I am the Captain; it is my ship, and I must take responsibility.  That’s why he doesn’t put on a life vest or jump into a lifeboat.  He must go down with his ship.”

Asked why the fate of the Titanic and the myriad of stories surrounding the souls aboard continue to haunt audiences more than a century later, Girolmo offers: “It’s the irony. What happened was supposed to be impossible. The ship was unsinkable, and just the same, this awful thing did happen. The three compartments filled with water, and she sank.”

Knauer feels that “We see ourselves in tragedies like this one, And the musical tells the story in a beautiful way so we can connect with the people. It is always about people, the best and worst in human beings.”

“And Maury Yeston leans toward the humanity of such a great tragedy,” says Girolmo.

Ian Knauer describes the emotion he feels most in each performance as “JOY.  The experience of working with these people; the joy in telling a story well; the joy in the reaction of audiences.” David Girolmo calls his experience “CATHARTIC. Captain Smith is in a heightened sense of anxiety most of the show, so at the end of the performance I feel this enormous release of stress.”

Perhaps this seeming dichotomy holds a clue to the mystery of the Titanic legend and the magic of the musical. This TITANIC production is a mosaic of so many individual stories, of dreams conceived and shattered, love born and lost, of soaring hope and plummeting despair – all played out in the microcosm of a grand and beautiful behemoth of a ship, whose very existence symbolizes both aspiration and hubris. In a tightly constructed book by Peter Stone, with the luxurious music of Maury Yeston, the inspired direction of Marc Robin, the performances of a stellar cast with thirty-six Broadway credits among them, and the glorious visual production MSMT will present, these stories cannot fail to uplift and transport the audience. 


Photos courtesy MSMT & the Fulton Theatre

TITANIC runs from June 7- 24, 2023, at the MSMT’s Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus, 1 Bath Rd., Brunswick, ME  207-725-8769





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