Theatre Review - Titanic: The Musical

By: Alison Silveira

I remember watching James Cameron's blockbuster film, Titanic and being awestruck by the sheer magnitude of the disaster that befell its passengers. It truly was a film of epic proportions with a classic love story and I was curious to see how the Tony-Award winning show, Titanic: The Musical would be staged. Jack and Rose are not part of the musical's storyline, but the legend has inspired many films, books, and plays. 

Written and composed by Maury Yeston, Titanic: The Musical is haunting and evokes great emotion. The RMS Titanic was thought to be unsinkable and many wealthy families wanted to be among the first to sail on her maiden voyage. One of the fictional passengers, Alice (Celia Graham) from a second class cabin tries desperately to hobnob with society's upper crust. As a bubbly storyteller and gossip, she gives us the background of each wealthy couple. 

A star of the operatic stage, Ben Heppner plays Isidor Straus, one of the many ill-fated passengers on the ship. He was the co-owner of Macy's department store and a prominent politician. Heppner possesses a commanding presence and his extraordinary vocal ability is impressive. I also enjoyedClaire Marlowe's performance. Marlowe plays a rich, young lady named Caroline, who is running away to America with a man significantly less well off than she is. The tone of her voice is crystal clear and she exudes elegance and charm. 

Strangers from the third class cabin introduce themselves to each other and sing about their anticipation and excitement to immigrate to America, where "the streets are paved with gold". At the start of the show, there is an infectious spirit of enthusiasm and excitement as we learn of the hopes and dreams of both rich and poor. Love stories of newfound romance among youth and devotion and loyalty displayed by the elderly are very touching and celebrate the human condition. Towards the tragic ending, there is a sense of great urgency among the crew and passengers and is also ever present as a musical motif in the Yeston's brilliant score. 

While the heart of the story is compelling with actors delivering strong performances, some of the production values, including the set and costumes, were lacking in refinement and creativity. I did not get the sense that Titanic was a grand, sprawling floating city. The lacklustre, barebones set includes three ladders and a second level deck on stage. There is very little variety among costumes and the garments of the first-class passengers are far from extravagant. However, the musical showcases a myriad of raw emotions that the real victims and survivors of the disastrous voyage must have experienced. The vocal ability of the cast is among the most impressive I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. 

There is a lot of nautical jargon used by the ship's commander, Captain Smith (Philip­ Rham) and owner, Ismay (Simon Green). My father, who accompanied me to the show, sailed as a marine engineer on cargo ships and was able to explain a lot of the terminology to me. Ismay tells Captain Smith that he wants to have the Titanic reach its destination of New York ahead of schedule to generate press for the remarkable vessel. To Captain Smith's dismay, he requests that the ship's speed be increased to 22.5 knots per hour. My father mentioned that even the most sophisticated and modern ships that he has sailed on do not travel at such high speeds. I was able to better comprehend the severity of how the Titanic collided with the iceberg.

Titanic: The Musical is emotionally stirring and a day after I saw the show, I was still thinking about the victims, survivors and the harrowing ordeal that they endured. You will experience a flurry of emotions as you see this show and listen to the cast's powerful voices as they singing Yeston's haunting score. 

Titanic: The Musical plays at the Princess of Wales Theatre until June 21, 2015.

Directed by: Thom Southerland

Written by: Maury Yeston

Book by: Peter Stone

Photos by: Cylla von Tiedemann