The Players sail into history with the epic Titanic, the Musical.
A community theater presenting its version of the massive Tony Award-winning epic, Titanic, the Musical? The jokes about sinking, drowning, disaster and shipwreck practically write themselves.
So, take a deep breath and prepare yourself for reality: The Players production of this Maury Yeston-Peter Stone show is, by and large, an achievement to be proud of. Challenging as it may be to imagine (or bring to life) such a large cast and dramatic story on the Players stage, director/choreographer Bob Trisolini and his cast and crew have found the way to do it.
Not that every single thing about Titanic, the Musical works. But the occasional awkward moment, clunky line or tortured lyric is usually more the fault of the show itself than of the production we see here.
Kathryn Ohrenstein in the Players production of Titanic, the Musical.
The show begins in Southampton, England, where the Titanic’s designer, Thomas Andrews (Chris Caswell), takes us into the mind of humankind, always seeking to create something enduring (In Every Age). Then we see the various crew members and passengers preparing to board the gangplank of this beautiful, unsinkable ship. And we really do get a good cross-section of characters here, from the millionaires of first class, like John Jacob Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, to a second-class hardware shop owner and his social-climbing wife (Joe Hunter and Susan Cole) to the third-class Irish girls looking for a better life (all named Kate, they’re played by Kathryn Ohrenstein, Samantha Johnson and Libby Fleming) to the ship’s doomed captain (Steve Dragon), noble stoker (Brian Rudolph) and owner J. Bruce Ismay (Mark Shoemaker), whose determination that the Titanic become a legend ends up succeeding in the most painfully ironic way.
And then…as the gangplank moves away, the deck and portholes of Titanic move up, and we’re off to sea.
Changes of scene and time are announced by a bellboy as the musical provides the obvious but necessary opportunities to peek into the hopes and dreams of the characters (most based on their real-life counterparts). In a show of this size, it’s hard to single out even a few standout performances or moments, but here goes with some I remember: stoker Barrett (compellingly played by Rudolph), sweating away as he remembers trying to escape from the coal mines, and later, sending his girlfriend a message with the help of a young and eager radio man (Rafael Petlock, who also scores with his rendition of The Night Was Alive); the three Kates, planning for their new lives in America in Lady’s Maid; that hardware store owner’s wife (Susan Cole in an engaging comic relief role) crashing the first-class saloon; the haunted feeling of No Moon as the cast wanders the stage just before the iceberg impact; and, in Act II, the high drama of The Blame as the Titanic’s owner, designer and captain desperately cast about for answers, and, finally, the touching lifeboat scene and the last minutes of the Titanic, as Andrews/Caswell describes what we actually see happening: victims rolling or plunging down a slanted deck to their deaths.
Although I can understand the impulse for it, personally I would have edited out the song Still here, depicting the long love between Isidor Straus (Jack Eddleman) and his wife (Jeanne Larranaga), because it slows the tense drama of the climactic scenes. But that number got much applause from the audience, so what do I know?
At two hours and 45 minutes, with a big tale to unfold, Titanic the Musical may falter slightly on occasion. But overall, it’s most impressive. Kudos to director Trisolini and all who sail with him.
Titanic the Musical continues through March 29; call 365-2494 or visit theplayers.org.