Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Since winning the Tony Award for Best New Musical in 1997, Titanic: The Musical has enjoyed a healthy life outside of New York, including two national tours and a number of regional productions. Southwestern Ohio's leading dinner theater, La Comedia Dinner Theatre, presents the show in one of the establishment's largest productions ever, and the results are mostly satisfying.
This musical, which debuted prior to the blockbuster movie of the same title, introduces the ship's crew as well as a wide array of passengers including stuffy millionaires, star-struck second class tourists, and poor immigrants wishing for a better life in America. The dreams of these individuals are brought to light, only to be shattered as they deal with their inevitable fate once the doomed boat strikes an iceberg.
The score by Maury Yeston contains a number of very strong choral and solo songs, with the music usually being stronger than the lyrics. The numbers in the first act are much better than those found in the second half of the show, and there are some songs that fail to rise above mediocre. However, there are tunes such as "Godspeed Titanic", "Barrett's Song", "Lady's Maid" and "The Proposal/The Night Was Alive" that are both wonderfully melodic and theatrically dramatic.
Peter Stone's book does a good job of providing a wide look at the many individual stories of passengers and crew members and smartly presents the human side of the disaster. However, by dispersing the focus among so many characters, the audience never gets to know any one person at a deep enough level to truly care about his/her fate. The fact that the outcome of the show is known at the outset also makes this a difficult story to tell, and therefore, not an overly compelling book for a musical.
Titanic is truly an ensemble show in every sense of the word. Almost every cast member has a moment to shine, and no true leads exist. In general, the performers are strong singers. Despite some overacting and sporadic failure to communicate some of the more humorous moments effectively, the cast does a commendable job in the acting department. For this production, a smaller ensemble of twenty-one performers is used. Therefore, almost every cast member plays multiple roles, many of which require frequent and quick costume changes. Standout performances include Stephen Brown (Barrett), Don Febbraio (Bride), and Benny Younger (Andrews). While the need to downsize the cast may be the only feasible option in this case, it does, nonetheless, distract somewhat from the overall effect of the storytelling.
Keith Cromwell provides the direction and limited choreography for this production. Mr. Cromwell has chosen to cut several short scenes and one song from the original script. This reduction works surprisingly well, and theatergoers unfamiliar with the musical will likely have no idea that such deletions were made. The transitions between scenes (and costume changes) are fairly fluid and the pace of this show is appropriate.
The most praiseworthy accomplishment of this production is the scenic design by Matthew J. Evens. In quite limited space, Mr. Evans has created a visually appealing and professionally constructed three tiered set that is easily altered to accommodate each of the many scene locales of the show. This design surely establishes a new standard at La Comedia which will be difficult to surpass in future productions. The lighting by Geoffrey D. Fishburn is capably rendered. The costumes by A.T. Jones are appropriate, but improvement can be made in the appearance of some of the wigs used.
Titanic: The Musical suffers somewhat from the difficulty of telling a large-scale story with a known outcome and still making it interesting. However, due to a group of versatile performers, a score with many stirring songs, and a first class scenic design, the production by La Comedia Dinner Theatre is enjoyable and generally satisfying. Titanic continues through May 12, 2002. Tickets can be purchased by calling 1-800-677-9505.