Review: TITANIC THE MUSICAL is Tremendous as Ever at MILWAUKEE REP

A Spectacular Feat of Theatrical Engineering

By: Sep. 29, 2022
Review: TITANIC THE MUSICAL is Tremendous as Ever at MILWAUKEE REP

Something epic has set sail once more at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Remounted after having to close early due to a COVID-19 outbreak last April, this show has been years in the making. It's the company's single largest production in their 70-year history, and Titanic the Musical is every inch a spectacular, tremendous achievement.

Despite hitting Broadway the same year as the movie, this is not the story of Jack and Rose. Titanic features music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, book by Peter Stone. It made its Broadway debut in April of 1997, while James Cameron's film premiered in December of that year. It seems great minds thought alike following the discovery of Titanic's wreckage in 1985.

If you're fascinated by the history of Titanic, enjoy richly-rendered theater and universally glorious voices, climb aboard Titanic the Musical. The songs may not be equally memorable, but the Rep makes up for that in sheer talent and production value. The stage show begins with an overture playing over a flurry of projected footage of the Titanic being designed and built. The sets, lighting, costuming, and orchestrations are as impressive as they were last April. Little, if anything, has changed in that regard, and that's a great thing.

If you look at the musical numbers listed in Act One, nearly half are part of an opening suite of songs, from the "Prologue" to "The Launching" to the triumphant "Godspeed Titanic." This last hymn of the opening sequence brings the entire cast on stage, belting as they build a glorious wall of sound. The sheer magnitude of 30 powerhouse voices singing in towering, layered harmony is divine.

When I say 30 powerhouse voices, I mean it. Titanic can't afford a weak link as the songs are all a mix of fast-paced and soaring. We're treated to passengers in first, second, and third class, stokers in the boiler room, butlers and maids, crewmen and captain, even the fella who mans the telegraph. This show requires a first-rate ensemble, and the Rep delivers once more.

Many of the same cast members have returned for this remounting, and though it would be impossible to name them all, here are some: There's the wonderful (and local) Matt Daniels as Henry Etches, a first class cabin steward. Also local, Carrie Hitchcock charms as Ida Straus, who perished alongside husband Isidor Straus (newcomer Joe Vincent) when the Titanic sank. Their duet, "Still," is a sweet tear-jerker. Andrew Varela is spot-on in both mighty voice and infuriating demeanor as the pigheaded villain, Ismay. Emma Rose Brooks once again lends her strong voice and vibrancy to third-class passenger Kate McGowan.

Among all the talent, a standout is Steve Pacek as Harold Bride, radioman at the ship's telegraph. He's incredibly memorable throughout, his voice and demeanor dazzling even as he steps into various smaller roles, like leading the charming ballad "Autumn." But his primary song "The Proposal / The Night was Alive," which he shares with Jeffrey Kringer as Barrett, is an easy favorite. Kringer notably and unforgettably was the Rep's Tony in West Side Story. It's an immense pleasure to have him and his pristine voice back in Milwaukee. His youthful spirit brings a fresh spin to the lovesick Barrett that really works.

Other newcomers include Cooper Grodin as Andrews and Alex Keiper as Alice. Keiper in particular provides marvelous comic relief just when you need it most. "I want to be on the same lifeboat with the Astors!" she exclaims. In the end, almost 500 seats went empty in those lifeboats, and a total of 1,504 souls did not survive the morning of April 15th, 1912.

The Milwaukee Rep's Titanic the Musical is a feat of theatrical engineering that's once again worthy of "the ship of dreams." The only iceberg may be those theatergoers who already saw it and would have preferred something new. But unprecedented times call for unprecedented pivots, and it's admirable that the Rep has been able to pull off a musical of this stature not once, but twice.

Titanic the Musical runs through October 23rd, 2022, and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Information and tickets at milwaukeerep.com.




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