Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


Titanic
Spreckels Theatre Company
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Also see Richard's reviews of Shocktoberfest 17: Pyramid of Freaks, Katya: A Bittersweet 90s Symphony and Hedwig and the Angry Inch


The Cast
Photo by Eric Chazankin.
There is a saying that goes, "Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan." After the tragedy of the Titanic, blame for the accident spread as far and wide as the oil from another maritime disaster, the grounding of the Exxon Valdez. Some said it was the fault of the engineers for not designing higher bulkheads to prevent water spilling from one compartment into another. Blame was placed on the captain, for ignoring warnings about icebergs along his planned route. Joseph Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, was faulted for encouraging Captain Smith to run at full speed to ensure a faster crossing. Even the British government's Board of Trade took its share of blame for allowing the vessel to sail with only enough lifeboats for fewer than half the passengers.

Fortunately for the folks at Spreckels Theatre Company, there will be a long line of people claiming paternity, for their production of Titanic, which embarked this past weekend, is a grand success.

First in the queue to receive their laurels should be director Gene Abravaya, who assembled a talented cast, backed them with a terrific orchestra, put them in delightful, period-appropriate costumes (by Pamela Enz), had Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen build them a titanically scaled set—and then directed them with great verve, discovering both the tragic and comic aspects of the story, one of history's greatest examples of hubris run amok.

Titanic premiered on Broadway in 1997, ran for 804 performances and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It's hard to imagine a story more ripe for dramatic interpretation. After all, on its maiden voyage, the Titanic carried with it 2,224 souls, each with passions and dreams—more than 1,500 of them would be extinguished on that cold April night in 1912. The crew and passengers represented every strata of society, from the Astors and the Guggenheims in the private first class salons to the Irish emigrants tucked away down in steerage, hoping for a new life in America. Even though we all know most of those dreams will slip beneath the icy waves, it is nonetheless delightful following, through Peter Stone's book, the many different personalities interact as they all come together in the enclosure of "the largest moving object in the world."

The cast are almost uniformly excellent. As a chorus, they sing with strength and confidence, finding the right harmonic balance and delivering a tight, precise rendering of Maury Yeston's songs. As individual performers, they discover the pathos and occasional humor in the story. Steven Kent Barker, as Captain E.J. Smith, is terrific, imbuing the skipper with both gravitas and humanity—as well as adding his melodious baritone to the mix. (As a bonus, he also looks remarkably like the actual Captain Smith.) As Alice and Edgar, a pair of passengers in Second Class, Karen Pinomaki and Dan Monez bring a wonderful chemistry and light comic touch. Pinomaki is especially wonderful as the social-climbing Alice, always in her mink stole, always on the lookout for a chance to hobnob with the swells—even when it comes to which lifeboat to board!

The technical crew should also get in line for their share of the credit for this success, for the show is almost perfect in terms of sound, lighting and projections. Especially the projections, for Abravaya has designed backdrops that give us a real feel for the ship, as well as historical projections (including boarding passes, passenger manifests, vintage posters, and period photographs) that remind the audience of the very real nature of the tragedy that occurred a century ago. Kudos also to musical director Tina Lloyd Meals, who somehow manages to make her six-piece orchestra sound like a much larger ensemble, and keeps them in tune and in time.

There is only one thing missing from this terrific production: an audience. At the performance I attended the theater was less than half-full, which is a travesty, given the quality of work on display. So don't miss this boat, buy your tickets and get yourself to Rohnert Park for a wonderfully entertaining two-and-a-half hours.

Titanic plays through October 30, 2016, at the Codding Theater in the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $16-$26 and are available by calling the box office at 707-588-3400. Box office hours are 12-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The box office is also open one hour before showtime. Additional information is available at www.spreckelsonline.com.


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