Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Moonlight Stage Productions
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Steven Glaudini, Norman Large,
and Robert J. Townsend

Photo by Ken Jacques
Winning the Tony Award for Best Musical does not always mean a show is a success. Despite earning the prize in 1997, Titanic was met with mixed reviews, was not a box office smash, and was overshadowed by the massive James Cameron movie that came out during the Broadway run. Slowly over time, the theatrical depiction of the story developed a more positive reputation thanks to acclaimed productions around the world. Although regional versions are infrequent, an epic interpretation is currently playing at Vista's Moonlight Amphitheatre.

When the tale opens, the passengers of the "floating city" are full of hope and optimism. Once the ship embarks for Manhattan, audiences learn about the real life people aboard including the captain, E.J. Smith (Norman Large); architect Thomas Andrews (Robert J. Townsend); and the self-absorbed chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay (Moonlight's Producing Artistic Director, Steven Glaudini). Enough empathy is created for most of the people that theatregoers care about who lives and who dies after the ship hits the deadly iceberg.

Viewers sense the grandness of the interpretation when the overture, conducted by musical director Elan McMahan, begins. The almost completely sung through opening of 16 minutes is a thing of beauty as Maury Yeston's songs make the vessel seem like the manmade equivalent to heaven.

Jim Zadai's miking had some minor hiccups on opening night, but, overall, the audio gives the singing ensemble and orchestra a mighty sound. Musicians and cast members never overwhelm each other during the 150-minute running time.

Jean-Yves Tessier's lighting, Jonathan Infante's projections, and the setting courtesy of Gateway Set Rentals bring the maiden voyage to vivid life. The designers collaborate to depict a variety of locations, from the upscale first class smoke room to the overpopulated third class commissary. A flow of the visual elements exists due to Larry Raben's assured direction. He pulls out all the stops to include as much detailed imagery as possible.

Costumes courtesy of Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd, and Carlotta Malone seem like they came from old photographs of the early 1900s. Thomas and J. Bruce's clothing accurately replicate how "the builder and the owner" appeared in pictures.

Since there are a lot of artists and no protagonist, everyone will likely have a couple of favorite performers. Besides nuanced work from Large, Townsend, and Glaudini, there is plenty of humane singing and acting from the likes of Katie Sapper, Shaina Knox, Sarah Errington, Eric Michael Parker, Richard Bermudez, and many other participants.

Peter Stone's dialogue and Yeston's lyrics are not without humor and a good chunk of it is provided by Bets Malone as second class passenger Alice Beane. Her comedic chops, brassy voice, and dramatic skills allow the superficial first class wannabe to be oddly likeable.

Those who go to watch theater just for escapism should know that Yeston's tunes are not meant to be crowd pleasers. Instead of crafting toe-tapping music, he evokes deep emotions melodically. Yeston's style fits the subject matter.

Titanic offers plenty to enjoy and savor, but several scenes in act two get a little too melodramatic. Yeston's "The Blame" features several characters unjustifiably pointing fingers at each other for the catastrophic events that occur. Several of Yeston's lines ring false because two of the travelers croon angry words that do not feel true to their personalities.

Also problematic is an extended section dealing with the lifeboats. Certain actions come across as sappy, even though the aftermath and eventual sinking are hard to watch. Historians might be upset by the altered fates of several riders. While there is nothing wrong with artistic licensing if there is justification for changing the facts, some may feel that Yeston and Stone cross the line after reading more about the former survivors and the deceased.

In spite of the issues, there are stirring moments in the second half that are sad to experience. A particularly devastating musical number is a heartbreakingly loving duet, "Still," between the co-owner of Macy's department store, Isidor Straus (Ralph Johnson), and his loyal wife Ida (Susan Stuber). Johnson and Stuber tenderly showcase the devotion of an adoring long-married couple.

Titanic, might not be perfect, but Moonlight Stage Productions largely succeeds in mixing uplifting wonder with an inevitably emotionally draining climax. Raben pays tribute to a horrifying tragedy that will never be forgotten.

Moonlight Stage Productions presents Titanic through September 3, 2016. Performs Sundays through Saturdays at 1200 Vale Terrace Dr, Vista. Tickets start at $10.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 1-760-724-2110.

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