— Michael Gill, playing Frederick Fleet spots the iceberg and alerts the bridge. Photo: Tim Matheson
TITANIC – A NEW MUSICAL
Theatre Under the Stars opened its 66th season on a night as calm and clear as the night a hundred years ago when the “unsinkable” Titanic, on its maiden voyage, hit an iceberg and sank in the frigid North Atlantic with the loss of 1500 lives.
Titanic – A New Musical (actually fifteen years old) is a titanic show. The cast seems almost as large as the original passenger list. But unlike the unfortunate ship, the musical stays afloat due to fine voices, a solid score, and heroic captaining by director Max Reimer in his first Vancouver gig since the Playhouse went down earlier this year.
Where James Cameron’s movie focused on a single romantic plot, Peter Stone’s book splits focus among many characters and their stories. Front and centre are the weak-kneed captain (Russell Roberts), greedy owner (nicely sleazy Alexander McMorran), and hapless designer (Steven Greenfield) who share blame for the disaster.
We meet wealthy first-class passengers like the Strauses (David Adams and Deborah Allman) and John Jacob Astor (Joshua McFaul), a couple in second class (Stefanie Swinnard and Mark Turpin), many third-class Irish immigrants, and much of the ship’s crew, including a stoic steward (excellently played and sung by Seth Little), telegrapher (Alexander Nicoll), and first mate (Dane Warren).
And they are, so to speak, just the tip of the iceberg.
Maury Yeston’s melodic score, Kevin Michael Cripps’ solid musical direction, and the 22-piece orchestra allow the cast’s many strong voices to shine. I especially liked Michelle Bardach’s feisty Irish Kate, Michael Gill’s poignant lookout, and Sayer Roberts’ dynamic stoker. The huge choruses also provide some dramatic lift. But as the end nears, the music never blows you out of the water the way the situation requires.
Chris Sinosich does her usual magic with the huge number of period costumes. Lauchlin Johnston’s video projections and sliding set pieces create strong visual images of the doomed ship and the sea that will swallow it up.
Although a familiar story, the Titanic disaster remains an extraordinary modern instance of the classic tragedy of pride and its terrible consequences. Because hardly any of the characters gets developed in depth, it doesn’t matter much to us who lives or dies. Yet watching them await their fate, as the end approaches almost in slow motion, is still a very powerful experience.