The musicalization of one of the worst disasters of the first part of the 20th Century may seem odd, especially considering the events of the last few weeks. However, Titanic: The Musical has enjoyed a fair amount of success, including winning the Tony Award for Best New Musical in 1997. The non-equity tour of this show by Big League Theatricals is currently being presented in Dayton, Ohio as part of the Victoria Theatre Association - Best of Broadway season and is a generally strong and entertaining production.
This musical, which debuted prior to the blockbuster movie of the same title, introduces us to 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. Their dreams are laid out before our eyes and then 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 generally 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 are only mediocre. However, there are tunes such as "Godspeed Titanic", "Barrett's Song", "Lady's Maid" and "The Proposal/The Night Was Alive" that are wonderfully melodic and theatrically dramatic and will send chills down the back of many a theatergoer.
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 brings the human side of the disaster to light. 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, only a decent 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. This group is very strong vocally, presenting the material with clear diction and beautiful singing voices, and sounding especially wonderful on the choral numbers. In the acting department, however, a few performers greatly overact while others do not deliver the humorous lines effectively in order to create the laughs this tale requires in the first act.
Daniel Stewart provides the direction and choreography for this production. The fluid pace and motion of the performers and set pieces is to be commended. The use of a pair of elegantly clad dancers throughout the show to represent the many couples and relationships of those aboard is unique, but not generally in step with the rest of the direction and is a little distracting. The design elements for this tour are different than those for the Broadway production and the equity tour of Titanic. In order to accommodate the smaller stage of cities such as Dayton, Roger Gray's design involves various pieces dropped and raised vertically to reveal and/or hide the various levels of the ship and is very effective. A few set pieces and props are repositioned for each room and, with the help of the wonderful lighting design by Charlie Morrison, capably distinguish one setting from another.
The musical Titanic suffers from the difficulty of telling a large-scale story with a known outcome and still making it interesting. However, with a cast of excellent singers, a score with many stirring songs, and an adequate design, the current non-equity national tour of the musical proves to be entertaining and enjoyable. Titanic continues at the Victoria Theatre in Dayton, Ohio through October 21, 2001. Tickets may be ordered by calling (937) 228-3630.
-- Scott Cain