Titanic the Musical has fascinated musical theatre lovers from the time of its debut on Broadway. Lush and operatic, it requires a large cast and a set that suggests the largest and most elegant passenger ship of its day. Titanic is also remembered for being trouble: its set wouldn’t sink on cue, and the technical problems persisted after the show officially opened. Reviews were less than positive, but the producers struggled to keep the show open. It won the Tony™ award for Best Musical, played 804 performances, but still closed at a loss. A subsequent tour apparently did not allow the show to recoup its investment.
Clearly, this Titanic is very different from the film version, which made its maker “king of the world.”
Nevertheless, many have championed this “ship of dreams” musical, and Moonlight Stage Productions has gone all out to present it in the best possible light to its audiences. Titanic features a cast of 38 and an orchestra of 26. It’s presented on a three-level set that duplicates the original’s efforts to show the class distinctions on the ship, along with projections (by Jonathan Infante) that provide context and even portray some scenes, like the sinking of the ship, that the most sophisticated mechanics couldn’t get right.
Under Larry Raben’s direction and especially Elan McMahan’s music direction, Titanic demonstrates that it does, indeed, take a village to put on a musical. Vocal quality is high, chorus work is thrilling, and Maury Yeston’s music and lyrics are shown to their best advantage.
The story is still a downer, and you really can’t escape that fact. People may have died nobly, but they still died. A crawl on the scrim pays tribute to those who didn’t survive.
So many stories whiz by that it’s tough to identify with many of the characters. Standouts on opening night included veteran opera and theatre performer Norman Large as the ship’s captain, Richard Bermudez as the ship’s stoker, Eric Michael Parker as the radio operator, and young Connor Marsh as the ever-faithful bellboy. Moonlight artistic director Steven Glaudini was good-naturedly booed at the curtain call for his portrayal of J. Bruce Ismay, the corporate executive who forced the error that sunk the ship.
Some nice cameos were turned in as well by Bryan Banville as the lookout, Katie Sapper and Scott Arnold as the young passengers in steerage who connected during the trip, and Ralph Johnson and Susan Stuber as the elderly first class couple who stayed together on the ship when lifeboats were reserved for women and children only.
There aren’t a lot of opportunities to see a show like Titanic, which needs forces such as these to produce. San Diegans are very lucky to have a company such as Moonlight Stage Productions, which is willing not only to produce the show but to do so at such a high level.