Book: Peter Stone
Music and Lyrics: Maury Yeston
Director: Thom Southerland
Conductor: Mark Aspinall
Reviewer: Donna Kelly
When composer Maury Yeston first announced he was going to write a musical about the Titanic, it was understandably met with scepticism. A musical about the biggest disaster in maritime history in which 1,503 people lost their lives hardly seems fitting. But instead of choosing to focus on the disaster, Yeston chose to focus on the people, delivering a soaring musical that is both accurate and respectful. No wonder it won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical when it opened on Broadway in 1997.
Based on real stories and real people, Titanic: The Musical is a story of dreams – dreams of building the greatest ship in the world, dreams of rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous and dreams of finding a better life in America. From the millionaire Barons in First Class to the Third Class immigrants desperate to start anew, Yeston, together with Peter Stone, has crafted a powerful, poignant and emotional piece of theatre, full of aspirations, hope, love, ambition and ultimately tragedy.
In terms of impact, the production retains the intensity it had on Broadway, although its set has been necessarily scaled down for the touring production. Here, David Woodhead’s elegantly two-tier design instantly evokes the feeling of being on a ship, with moving staircases allowing entrances to and from various parts of the ship. Howard Hudson’s evocative lighting design equally helps to delivers mood, but also spectacle as needed.
Peter Stone’s book is surprisingly historically accurate, as vital statistics about the ship are weaved into musical numbers such as Godspeed Titanicand when disaster eventually does occur, it is done with imagination and dignity by director Thom Southerland.
All of the 25 strong cast are excellent, bringing full voice and powerful characterisations to the 80+ roles that they play. Particularly good work comes from Greg Castiglioni as the ship’s architect Thomas Andrews, Niall Sheehy as stoker Barrett, Oliver Marshall as the telegrapherHarold Bride and Devon-Elise Johnson as passenger Kate Murphy. Southerland’sdecision to see the cast arrive through the auditorium also works particularly well, establishing a closer connection with the audience.
But the real star of the show is Yeston’s surging and melodic score, which is performed with power and poignancy by Mark Aspinsall’s six-piece band. Godspeed Titanic and The Proposal/The Night Was Alive stand out in particular for pulling on the heart-strings, with stunning vocal harmonies by the ensemble cast. In fact, the only real disappointment was a slight issue with sound on one of the musical numbers which hindered an otherwise flawless production.
If you’re willing to look beyond its title, there is plenty to love about Titanic The Musical. A modern musical masterpiece about a legendary piece of history.
Runs until 12 May 2018 | Image: Scott Rylander