note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Beverly Creasey
Reviewed by Beverly Creasey
Just like the ship for which it's named, the musical "Titanic" is grand scale,,,,right down to its operatic sensibilities.
Just like grand opera, you're well aware of the tragic ending from the get-go.....as it slowly, inexorably builds toward doom. Even composer and lyricist Maury Yeston's overture swells with ominous chords worthy of Mussorgsky. The chorus, too, is more stationary than the high stepping choruses in most musicals. The payoff for "Titanic" is grandeur.
Just like "Ragtime" we get several stories, not just one or two --- evidently the latest trend in musical theater these days. It works. After all, there were 2000 stories on board the Titanic. Yeston and author Peter Stone highlight Titanic's posh passengers as well as those in steerage. The best tale they tell comes from the belly of the ship: a stoker (Marcus Chait) who sings a chilling Sweeney Todd-esque indictment of the rich people he's serving as he shovels more coal into the furnaces. We follow him as he wires home a marriage proposal, and as he passes up his chance to board a lifeboat. He gets two of the show's big arias. And "Titanic" has some gorgeous songs, like "Autumn" --- although non as memorable as the fatalistic "Still" sung by department store magnate Straus and the loving wife who refuses to leave his side. It's the sweetest moment in "Titanic". Taina Elg and S. Marc Jordan bring immense dignity and genuine warmth to the couple.
Despite the fact that the chorus file across the stage numerous times like lemmings in search of water --- in front of the curtain, so the next scene can be set behind it --- "Titanic" manages to convey the gravity of human loss without becoming caricature. There are many humorous moments, but they never overshadow the tragedy. Edward Conery gives an especially droll performance as the snooty chief steward. Stewart Laing's costumes are opulence itself, and his sets clever one-dimensional renderings of a ship (especially one "trick" stairwell). But the best trick Stone and Yeston pull off is giving the musical its authentic sense of history