Titanic: A New Musical

Titanic –A New Musical
Story and Book  by Peter Stone
Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston
Director/choreographer Max Reimer
Musical Director Kevin Michael Cripps
Theatre Under the Stars
Malkin Bowl, Stanley Park
Until August 18th, 2012

Vancouver, BC: For an avid ballroom dance cruiser who has set sail, so to speak, on 2 ocean liners and several large and small cruise ships in the past three years, a musical about an "unsinkable" ocean liner that actually sinks could be deemed an odd choice for entertainment, especially just before boarding another ship as I will do in a weeks or so.  But previously, before leaving on a Cunard cruise round the British isles, I had read  quite a bit about the Titanic, and a visit to the Titanic Museum in Halifax on another dance cruise later that year ago was also a fascinating but sobering experience. Perhaps partly because of that, for me the emotional impact of this TUTS production was quite intense.

This Theatre Under the Stars production of Titanic - A New Musical is different from TUTS more usual style of musical theatre but under the direction of Max Reimer, it is definitely one of the best shows that I have seen there.  Obviously the subject matter does not lend itself to lots of upbeat song and dance musical numbers, but there were many moments of humour, and the singing, both individual and in the ensemble pieces was excellent.

The audience of course, unlike the passengers and crew who are full of excited anticipation on stage, knows from the first minute that these characters and this marvelous ship are doomed. Despite every minute of emotional angst that derives from the powerful impact of this dramatic irony (and I was almost moved to tears in several parts) the show is entertaining and is definitely well worth seeing.

 The book  follows a predictable course.  In the beginning there is the excitement and glorification of this new "largest moving object" ever built. We are introduced to memorable and recognizable characters, many based on actual passengers and crew.  Thus we meet the bullying ship owner, Mr. Ismay (Alex McMorran), who urges the Captain to increase speed to meet his deadline for arrival in New York, Captain E.J. Smith (Russell Roberts) who despite his misgivings, acquiesces to Ismay's urgings,  and Andrews (Stephen Greenfield) the builder of the boat. The collision effect, and the aftermath was chilling.

The book brings out the class distinction of the times as we meet the 3rd class,  2nd class and 1st class passengers. As I saw in the Titanic Museum, the cost of a single ticket on the 6 day transatlantic crossing was $138 first class, $63 for second class, and $36 for third class. If you plan a transatlantic crossing from Southampton to New York in July 2013, 101 years after the Titanic voyage, an inside cabin would cost around $1500 while a top of the line cabin would be about $6100 per person. I found it interesting that despite the difference in time, the ratio is amazingly constant, the lowest fare being about 25% of the most expensive in both cases. The book also acknowledges the heroism of some of the characters such as Isidore Straus, who gave up his place in a life boat so that women and children would survive, and his wife who chose to remain with him rather than save herself.

But I digress. One of the highlights of the production was the set and videography by Lauchlin Johnston, who also designed the set for the other TUTS show, The Music Man. Many of the video set images were taken from still photos of the actual structures on the Titanic, showing how the ship actually appeared. The clever use of two sliding platforms and a railing, created the sense of the layers of various decks.  An  example was the scene in the Third-Class Stairwell where stoker Barrett (Sayer Roberts) comes up from below and leads passengers to the upper deck.  Other powerful images were that of the separation by a transparent curtain of the tableau of survivors from that of the dead, and of the lookout in the crow's nest, straining to see in the dark. Check out some of the scenes in the TUTS video clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzLzfd5lQWw

My usual mark of an enjoyable musical is when I leave the theatre humming several of the songs.  This is not a hummable musical but I thought many of the songs were lovely and moving, and Reimer and musical director Cripps brought out the best in a talented group of singers.

Titanic is not a commonly performed musical and this is the premiere production for Vancouver. I highly recommend this show. Be prepared to be affected even though you know what happens - or perhaps because you know.  It plays alternate nights with The Music Man, always a fun show.

You can buy tickets on line at http://www.tuts.ca/tickets. You can also call 1-877-840-0457 to reserve your seats for a $5.00 surcharge per order, or buy tickets in person at the Box Office or at one of the two Tickets Tonight booths.

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