Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Hale Centre Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of What the Constitution Means to Me, Patti LuPone: A Life in Notes, School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play, and The Diary of Anne Frank

Graphic courtesy of Hale Centre Theatre
The musical Titanic stands as a powerful testament to one of history's most tragic events. With its factual basis and lush, operatic score, the musical brings the story of the sinking of the RMS Titanic to life in a poignant and emotionally resonating manner. Hale Centre Theatre's production may take a more minimalistic approach compared to other productions I've seen, including on Broadway, where they had a three-level set and areas of the stage that tilted to 45 degrees, but it still manages to deliver a moving and emotional journey. With an exceptional cast and some of the most stirring vocals I've heard in years, Hale's production effectively captures the hopes, dreams and fears of the passengers and crew aboard the ill-fated ship.

Set against the backdrop of Titanic's maiden voyage in 1912, the musical delves into the events leading up to the ship's demise. It also sheds light on the wide range of individuals aboard the ship, from the stoic Captain to the ambitious architect and the determined immigrants who were all coming to America to seek a better life. Through its richly detailed book (by Peter Stone) and lush score (by Maury Yeston), the musical offers a profound exploration of the human experience in the face of catastrophe.

Winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Titanic is a masterful blend of historical accuracy and artistic license. Yeston's sweeping score captures the grandeur and poignancy of the Titanic's journey, while Stone's meticulously researched book uses actual passengers and crew members on the ship to weave together the stories of dozens of characters, providing a compelling structure. From the wealthy elite to the immigrants seeking a better life, each character is given a voice, allowing audiences to connect with the personal struggles and triumphs of those on board.

Hale's ensemble cast beautifully breathe life into a diverse array of characters, each with their own dreams and aspirations. There isn't a weak link. Bryan Stewart, Cameron Rollins, and Tyler Thompson deliver stellar performances as the trio of men central to the narrative of the Titanic. Stewart embodies the authoritative yet tragic figure of Captain E.J. Smith with gravitas, while Rollins captures the complex character of the ship's owner, J. Bruce Ismay, who keeps urging Captain Smith to make the boat go faster with nuance. Thompson brings depth and humanity to the role of Thomas Andrews, the man behind the design of the ill-fated vessel.

Equally impressive are Brie Wadsworth-Gates, Ivana Martinic, and Zac Bushman who portray the main idealists aboard the ship. Wadsworth-Gates shines as the optimistic and headstrong Kate McGowan, infusing her performance with sincerity and resilience. Martinic brings infectious energy to the role of social climber Alice Beane, showcasing wonderful comedic chops and also emotional depth. Bushman's portrayal of the romantic Barrett, a stoker on the ship, is heartfelt and genuine, and his duet of "The Proposal / The Night Was Alive" with Bennett Smith as the ship's radioman Harold Bridge is deeply moving; in one of the best portrayals of the character I've seen, the joy that Smith oozes during this number is infectious.

Gary Pimentel and Mary Jane McCloskey deliver a touching picture of the devoted couple Isidor and Ida Strauss, capturing the essence of their enduring love amidst tragedy. Raymond Barcelo brings a sense of realism to his role as Alice's practical husband Edgar, while Amanda Valenzuela and Kevin Orduño convey the innocence and sweetness of a young unmarried couple aboard the ship.

Brandt Norris impresses as the steward for the first-class passengers, demonstrating versatility, skill, and a beautiful singing voice. The trio of Ryan Monaghan, Trevon Powell, and Bennett Allen Wood deliver splendid vocals as three of the ship's crew; Wood's solo performance of "New Moon" is particularly noteworthy for its beauty, emotion and clarity. Jason Irr, Gillian Elliott, and Gracie Gamble infuse their roles as Irish passengers with spunk, adding depth and authenticity. Joseph Strode charms with his portrayal of the always optimistic 15-year-old bellboy. Joshua South is wonderful leading the bright and bouncy dance number, "Doing the Latest Rag," while ensemble members Kira Galindo, Alixandra Giordano, Adam Guinn, and Reece Harris deliver commendable performances in their multitude of roles.

Cambrian James' direction and staging provides seamless transitions, including an incredibly staged 15-minute opening sequence that depicts the awe the Titanic's crew members feel when first seeing the ship, as well as the boarding of the passengers and the ship's launching. James' brisk staging also manages to create the feeling that there are dozens of people on the ship; the backstage wardrobe changes must be tightly choreographed, since almost everyone plays multiple roles and characters in all classes aboard the ship, often switching being roles within minutes.

However, I have a few quibbles. The characters that Stewart, Rollins, and Thompson play were all actual Englishmen, yet none of them uses an English accent, while almost all of the other cast does use appropriate accents for their characters. The in-the-round staging works quite well except for the scenes set on the ship's bridge, which is located in the upper corner balcony. While most of the audience has a clear view of that section, anyone sitting in the northwest section will have an obstructed view of the scenes on the bridge, including the moment toward the end of the show when that section starts to tilt to depict the ship starting to go into the sea.

Also, while the projection screens on the sides of the stage show the location, date and time of each scene, they could be used more effectively to project images or photos of those locations to give a sense of the grandeur of the many sections of the boat instead of constantly remaining black throughout most of the show. Fortunately, those screens are also used after the curtain call to show images of the actual Titanic passengers who are depicted in the musical, so wait a moment before you leave so you can see all of these wonderful archival photos.

James' choreography is bright, playful, and period appropriate, as are the fantastic authentic costumes by Brielle Hawkes. Cathy Hauan's music direction delivers impressive vocals and harmonies from the entire cast. McKenna Carpenter's set design is excellent in evoking the steel beams and metallic bolts of the ship, and the lighting by Catherine Andrus is used quite effectively to depict the many scenes at night as well as the scenes of destruction.

While I had a few small issues, overall, Hale Centre Theatre's Titanic ultimately serves as a poignant tribute to the lives lost on that fateful night in 1912. With its lush score and heartfelt performances, the production reminds audiences of the human stories behind the tragedy, ensuring that the memory of the Titanic and the more than 1,000 people lost that night lives on.

Titanic runs through May 11, 2024, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 480-497-1181.

Producers and Casting Directors: David and Corrin Dietlein
Director and Choreographer: Cambrian James
Music Director: Cathy Hauan
Costume Designer and Costume Shop Manager: Brielle Hawkes
Scenic Designer and Scenic Charge: McKenna Carpenter
Lighting Designer: Catherine Andrus
Props Mistress and Scenic Painter: Liz De La Torre
Performance Stage Manager: Kelly Slader
Audio Engineer: Jackson Zyontz
Hair, Wigs and Makeup Designer: Cambrian James
Dance Captain: Brie Wadsworth-Gates
Special Effect Designer and Carpenter: Wesley Welter
Welder: Paul West
Overhire Technical Director: David Walker
Carpenters: Dan Rodriguez, Jim Creaser, Kevin Penner, Brittany Arwine and Ariel Belnap
Costume Stitchers and Wardrobe: Molly Hill, Toni Smith, Shane Yearneau
Assistant Stage Managers: Abby Hawel and Kinsey Moore
Dressers: Sophia Castelluccio and Alice Johnson
Production Assistant: Jamie Fleischer
Business Manager and Hale Bookkeeper: Britney Carpenter

Thomas Andrews: Tyler Thompson
Frederick Barrett: Zac Bushman
Harold Bride: Bennett Smith
Frederick Fleet: Bennett Allen Wood
Captain E.J. Smith: Bryan Stewart
J. Bruce Ismay: Cameron Rollins
Charles Clarke: Kevin Orduño
Edgar Beane: Raymond Barcelo
Isidor Straus: Gary Pimentel
Jim Farrell: Jason Irr
Henry Etches / Pitman: Brandt Norris
Murdoch: Ryan Monaghan
Lightoller: Trevon Powell
Bellboy: Joseph Strode
Alice Beane: Ivana Martinic
Caroline Neville: Amanda Valenzuela
Kate McGowan: Brie Wadsworth-Gates
Kate Murphy: Gillian Elliott
Kate Mullins: Gracie Gamble
Ida Straus: Mary Jane McCloskey
Ensemble: Kira Galindo
Ensemble: Alixandra Giordano
Ensemble: Adam Guinn
Ensemble: Reece Harris
Ensemble: Joshua South