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's Sneak Peek at the Musical Titanic
In case anyone reading this hasn't heard, one of the biggest musical spectacles headed for
Broadway chronicles the saga of the great luxury vessel the R.M.S.Titanic.
This Titanic set sail from Southampton, England on April 10, 1912 with 2227 passengers and
and never completed its maiden voyage. At 11:40 p.m. on the night of April 14, the great ship
struck an iceberg on her starboard bow and sank. The super luxury liner had twenty
lifeboats geared to hold less than half the ship's human cargo. There were only 705 survivors.
The 1522 people who perished included passengers and crew. The wreck of the Titanic has never
been raised, but the story of this great disaster has been told and re-told in newspapers,
magazines, and a best-selling book. . .and now, .there's the musical. The opening date is 84 years
and 10 days after the crash.
On March 5th, just a day after attending a press rehearsal for Steel
Pier, I trekked down to another rehearsal space, this one on Broadway and
Street, to get a handle on this epic disaster turned musical saga. Because the
Titanic presentation wasn't as much of a sampler, as the one for Steel
Pier,and because the show is very complex in its blending of historically and
psychologically solid characters and music, it is also elusive in terms of predicting its fate
in the always hit-and-miss ball game that is musical theater It certainly has a lot of the elements
mega-hits like Phantom and Les Miz. Still, based on the little I
saw, I'll take the Fifth on pre-curtain predictions and instead file this sneak peek pre-report on
saw and heard.
Will Fact or Fiction Prevail?
To put to rest the concern of some people at the internet newsgroup devoted to musical theater,
the architects of this musical are not going to rewrite history--shades of the book sequel to
Gone With the Wind or the musical Anna Karenina. The
fellow who fretted about the possibility "that some unknown sailor saves everyone by sealing the
hole with bubble gum, candlewax, and instant mashed potatoes" can breathe easy. The Titanic
will sink which is not to say that with so many lives to be unfolded
before us, there isn't always the possibility of some of the key players landing in one of the life
The author of the Titanic story and book, Peter Stone, confirmed
Newsgroup optimists who felt that people would be no more put off by gloomy themes than they
had in shows like Les Miz.--or by the fact that the ending is a given. Using his
award winning musical 1776 as an example, he declared that "people knew the
Declaration was going to be signed. He also pointed to the timeliness of a show about people's
lives always being subject to coincidence and nature. "Look at all the floods and other disasters
all around us today." In a world where people are faced with often frightening
technological advances, "I take some comfort that Nature is still in charge."
Some Cast Tidbits
I saw most of the 42 cast members who will be representing the 2200 passengers of the Titanic.
Tommy fans will find Michael Cerveris on board as a first class passenger
named Thomas Andrews. He'll have to go to 2nd class to sing any duets with Judith
Blazer, named Caroline Neville in the show. Other Tommy favorites
joining him as first class passengers will be William Youmans as John Jacob Astor and
Jody Gelb as Eleanor Widener. Another 2nd class passenger, Bill Buell, plays a tourist
named Edgar Beane. His wife Alice, typifies the tourists who signed on for this voyage to
ogle all the first class big-money, big-name "swells." Cabaret enthusiasts will remember
Victoria Clark who plays Alice for her fine star turn in A Grand Night for
Singing (with Karen Ziemba, now the lead in Steel
sample scene at the rehearsal included a number in which Ms. Clark sings about how "the best
people will be there" with a strong touch of Miss Adelaide--(a part she once
understudied)-- to show off the less operatic shades of Maury Yeston's music and lyrics.
Tommy grad, Clarke Thorell, is a third class passenger. The opening
number I saw featured a trio of his fellow passengers, young Irish
immigrants -- (Jennifer Piech, Theresa McCarthy and Erin Hill)-- for whom the Titanic
meant a passage towards a better, more hopeful life.
The Star of the Show is Still Very Much the Bride Hidden Away Until
The real star of the show is, of course, the ship that overarches everything in
this Broadway opera--or, if you will, Popera, since we are talking about the
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre and not The Met. And no, I didn't see it.
The boarding scene
that was shown focused on the variety of people who furnish the show's
human interest aspects of the show. A few renderings, the rope stretched across the rehearsal
hall to suggest the ship's gang plank, the awe on the passenger's faces, the lyrics about "this
ship of dreams". . .everything points to the pyrotechnical splendor to be unveiled, but just how it's
all going to work remains a mystery. I do believe that the technicians will manage to sink the
ship and probably with considerable technical panache.
The Yeston Sound
From the little bit of the music I heard, the overall feel is clearly more colored by operatic sweep
than a sassy, jazzy showtune flavor. A crewman sings: "Forty-six thousand tons of steel, eleven
stories high/ she's a great palace, floating quiet as a lullaby." The choral numbers echo the "ship
of dreams" theme."
When I asked Maurie Yeston, the classically trained
composer/lyricist, if he would describe his sound as operatic he said
"Yes, of course. You have human beings caught up in an epic drama. Their emotions
are what causes them to sing. But," he added "it's an up-to-the-minute 1997 musical
sound which had to be colored by the diversity of the people and reflect their origins.
That meant we had to have a rag because this was the time of 'Alexander's Ragtime Band.'
That's also why we have a song by a stoker that reflects the D. H. Lawrence's midland
When I asked if there were any show-stopping romantic numbers, Yeston mentioned a song
Isidor Straus, (Larry Keith), of the Macy's department store fortune and Ida Straus (Alma
Carve) sing to
each other. He was quite elderly and she refused to leave him so they went down together.
"It's a very touching love song."
To my mind, it would be nice if people could hear a
recording of any show's
music before they go to see it. In this case, even more so since Yeston's music is the type that
grabs your sensibilities
gradually rather than with an instant bang.
Get In the Mood by Reading the Book
In conclusion, it wouldn't be a bad idea to re-read the seminal book about the Titanic, A
Night to Remember. It's the book Peter Stone mentioned as one of his major sources
and if the show's a hit may well recapture the book buying public's interest. Several paperback
editions of it are available on line, and at
Bantam paperback, 1997. . .
Buccaneer Books hard cover edition, 1991
Audio Cassette, 1997
©right March 1997, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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