Titanic in Concert, story and book by Peter Sone, lyrics and music by Maury Yeston, opened this weekend at the Heritage Players at the Rice Auditorium in Catonsville. This 1997 Tony Award-winning musical is directed by David Jennings and produced by Lenny Taube.
This is not the James Cameron movie of the 1990s or A Night to Remember from the 1950s. This musical did open on Broadway in the same year as the Oscar winner that featured Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. So, even though Titanic in Concert won several Tony Awards, it is somewhat obscured in our memories.
That being said, it is a wonderfully crafted piece, more American opera than a typical Broadway musical. It is in the genre of Les Misérables, Rent and Miss Saigon. It tells the historic tale from the class perspective. We get to know and care about at least one couple from first, second, and third (often labeled steerage) class. Since the fate of the Titanic is so well known, it is the fate of these people, along with a couple of the crew, that make us care enough to keep our attention riveted.
Jennings has a huge cast and he steers them craftily around the stage. This production used projections to convey the magnitude of the size of the ship and the tragedy. The stage itself was fairly austere, using just some platforms and moveable small set pieces to convey the story. It worked well as this is about the characters and the lives that were in the end senselessly lost. It is actually the building up to the crash with the iceberg that is the majority of the story. Perhaps, knowing that there will be this terrible conclusion heightens our attention on the characters and helps the plot move quickly.
This is also an ensemble production. The cast is filled with performers whose wonderful voices and acting talent flesh out their characters. Their credits include many other musical productions in regional theater, and in the case of Sharen Camille, who plays Caroline, several professional credits around the world.
There are several vivid performances and songs. In Act I, Stephen Foreman as Fred Barrett, the Stoker (who stokes the engines with coal) and Stu Goldstone as Radioman Harold Bide sing fine heartfelt numbers “The Proposal” and “The Night was Alive” when the two send a message to Barrett’s girl left on shore. Amy E. Haynes is compelling as Kate McGowen, one of the several Irish Kates in steerage. She, along with Alyssa Wellman Houde as Kate Murphey and Kelly Rardon as Kate Mullins and the Ensemble, are all humorous and optimistic as they dream of bettering their lives in America with the song, “Lady’s Maid.” Later in Act II, a more touching moment is created with the three Kates and Mark Lloyd as Jim Farrell, with their musical number “Staircase.”
Other noteworthy performances are created by Lisa Pastella as Alice Beane, who along with husband Edgar (played by Vincent Musgrave), are mere second-class passengers. Alice is enchanted by the “celebrity” of the rich folk in first class and wants her husband to aspire to be more successful. Camille as Lady Caroline and John Day, as the man she has left her home to marry, Charles Clarke, bring romance and pathos to their story. Thomas C. Hessenauer and Debbie Mobley deliver warmth and tenderness to Isidor and Ida Straus (actual passengers and founders of Macy’s) in their farewell duet. Also giving fine performances were Rick Robertson as J. Bruce Ismay, the selfish owner of the Titanic, John Gary Pullen as E.J. Smith, the Captain of the ill-fated ship, and Daniel Plante as Thomas Andrews, the Titanic’s designer.
Rounding out the marvelous cast are Robyn Bloom (Charlotte Cardoza), Johnny Dunkerly (Bellboy), Keith G. Field (Lightoller, John Jacob Astor), David Hill (Murdoch), Paul Kennedy (Fleet, Thayer), Jim Knost (Pittman, Etches), Joey Light (Hartley, Spencer Kate Nelson (Madeline Astor), Jack Wiggins (Thayer) and John Wiggins (Carlson).
David Zajic is the Music Director. He leads an orchestra worthy enough to play on Broadway. Under his direction, the orchestra brings beauty to the music and never overwhelms the lyrics. Jamie Jennings does a great job with the choreography on a very limited stage with very many performers. The costumes by Sally Kahn are beautiful and in period. They also help reflect the class of the characters. I am not sure if she or someone else is responsible for the life jackets and the blankets that said Carpathia (the ship that saved those lucky enough to find room in the lifeboats), but they are appreciated touches. Brad Ranno did a commendable design on lights and sound – although there were some technical glitches opening night.
Titanic in Concert will not be afloat for long. Make sure you get your tickets for this first-class production!
Running Time: Two hours and 35 minutes, with an intermission.
Titanic in Concert plays through February 18, 2018 at The Heritage Players performing at the Rice Auditorium – at Spring Grove Hospital Center, 55 Wade Avenue, Catonsville, MD. Tickets may be purchased at the door, or go online.
Note: Some GPS maps are not correct. Check the Heritage Players website for directions. You don’t want to be late and miss the boat!