Make no mistake, Thom Southerland’s Titanic The Musical is nothing like the 1997 James Cameron film – except for the fact that the ship does, inevitably, sink. This chamber version by Maury Yeston (music and lyrics) and Peter Stone (story and book) has a cast list of 25 excellent actor-singers, managing to charm and making its way into the audience’s hearts in the first act, while gut-wrenchingly breaking them in the second half as the disaster and tragedy washes upon the people onboard.
The unashamedly political tone of the show makes it a particular delight to watch. The narrative makes it quite clear that the Titanic – hailed as the “floating city” that aspired to fulfill every human dream of grandeur – fell into the same old trappings of human society, brimming with inequality. The rich and elite boarded the vessel with the conviction that they would carry on maintaining their privileges and perpetuate their hegemony. Whereas, the second class passengers moved around being unsure of their position in the ship, caught between not being poor enough to have simple dreams of a better life and not elite enough to rub shoulders with the first class, and the third class were unabashed about admitting that they boarded the ship with the belief that a better, more prosperous life lay ahead of them.
The show painstakingly takes into account all kinds of classes of people who were on the ship. The workers in the boiler rooms, the teenage bellboy Edward who maintained his sunny disposition even in the face of imminent death, the lovers within the three classes (and one, the Clarkes, she of the upper class, he of the middle class, escaping to America where such distinctions hold less merit) – all of them receive due attention within the story. The first act is left to the audience to pick their favourite characters and appreciate the premise that is put forward to them.
“The small cast was successfully able to communicate the magnitude of horror”
The second act is devastating in its impact as the horrifying tragedy unfurls, destroying the dreams and aspirations that the maiden voyage of the Titanic had stood for. Although over 1500 people died due to the shipwreck, the small cast was successfully able to communicate the magnitude of horror in spite of the limitations of a stage production depicting the disaster. If one goes in expecting some visual spectacle to show the shipwreck, then they shall be disappointed, however, the practical elements of the incident are quite efficiently handled with appropriate lights and sounds to convey hitting an iceberg in the dark.
Yeston’s score is beautifully soulful and appropriate, the instrumentals accompanying the emotion being expressed within the scene, and songs like ‘In Every Age’ and ‘No Moon’ managing to create a sense of gigantic size and panicky horror respectively. While one shall not leave the theatre humming the score, it suits the show perfectly well and the actors all deliver applause-worthy performances of them.
“Titanic The Musical soars”
Dudley Rogers and Judith Street as the very elite Isidor and Ida Strauss are firm crowd favourites. As is Claire Machin, playing Alice Beane, the traveller on the second class with high aspirations of mingling with the elite and belonging there. Certain scenes between Ismay and Captain Edward James feel a little too drawn out and repetitive after the first time, and some scenes, especially towards the sobering and poignant end, feel a tad overcrowded by the constant singing, the instrumentals alone would have successfully created a subtler moment. However, one cannot fault the socio-political narrative of the show, the power of the challenging score and the brilliance with which the performances were delivered, and it is because of these reasons that Titanic The Musical soars.
Featured Image Courtesy of Titanic The Musical Official Facebook Page.