Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Friday, May 22, 2015

Theater Review: TITANIC: The Musical, Toronto

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 03:29


Sometimes, perhaps rarer than usual, theater grabs a hold of you and makes a truly indelible impression. For me, that occurrence came with the original 1997 Broadway production of TITANIC. It was the first show I had ever seen on the Great White Way; and it has forever lived in my heart as one of my absolute most favorite life experiences The show, which many believed was doomed from the start (after all, who would want to watch a musical about the famed ocean liner that’s fate is well, pretty well darned known?), became a surprise hit. Winning 5 Tony Awards, TITANIC proved it was the Unsinkable Molly Brown, taking home statues for Best Orchestrations, Best Score, Best Scenic Design, Best Book, and the coveted prize for Best Musical. The show ran for almost two years at the Lunt Fontanne Theater. And it was a juggernaut for actors who would go on to become major Broadway players. Victoria Clark, Michael Cerveris, and Brian D’Arcy James all had main roles.

But as the popularity of TITANIC the film started to wind down, the musical shuttered on March 21, 1999. However, the show has been considered by many to be a major contribution to the repertoire of American musical theater; and numerous reincarnations of the show have lived on–including a national tour, productions across the globe, and most recently at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, Canada. The Toronto production, which opened May 19th, is based on an acclaimed chamber version of the show which ran in London’s Off-West End Southwark Playhouse in 2013. That show was so well received, there were plans to run it in Toronto in 2014 and bring it back to Broadway in 2015. Unfortunately, producers were unable to find a house for the show; and plans were placed on pause.

To say that TITANIC lives alive and well in its new Canadian production fails to give it justice. This production, which stars many of the same actors who played in London’s chamber version of the show back in 2013, succeeds on every level. The ensemble is so absolutely incredible, it’s difficult to put into words just how truly remarkable they are. Not one actor, not even the famous opera tenor Ben Heppner (Isidor Strauss), who headlines the show, outshines another. To say that the show succeeds based on the talent of its cast is an understatement. It has been quite some time since I’ve seen a show that had such a strong ensemble that it makes it difficult to laud individual performers. But this production of TITANIC is that show!

Not only are the actors truly wonderful, but the sets and costume design are both superior. David Woodhead had a lot to live up to in the original Tony-Award winning design of Stewart Laing, who won the Tony for a set that did the unthinkable–SANK! But he succeeds. No–the set doesn’t sink during the second act (although it does do something similar in the exciting finale); but the set, mainly consisting of multi-level exterior and interior settings of the ship, brings an intimacy of the show that has never been seen before. The cast seems to almost hover into the audience, creating the sense of an experience rather than just a straight-forward piece of theater. Just as commendable as the actors and sets, Maury Yeston’s score soars!

When I first read the program, I was shocked and saddened to see that the orchestra only consisted of 6 musicians. But once the show began, the richness of that amazing score shattered the walls of the Princess of Wales Theatre! Ian Weinberger (orchestrations), Mark Aspinall (musical direction), and Gareth Owen (sound design) demonstrate that although a large and grand orchestra is traditionally considered optimal, a smaller set of musicians playing a well-crafted version of the score can make just as strong an impact. And while I missed the presence of woodwinds and brass, the arrangement of heavy strings covering the major solos contributed heavily to the more nautical feel of the show.

There are also some very smart, subtle, and intelligent changes to the book that bolster the quality and flow of the musical considerably. Some lines, delivered by different characters in this production compared to the original, make more sense. The final scene of the original show, which I truly believe was the best final scene ever written for the theater, is actually outdone here! It has been augmented to include a homage to those who died on the ship; but the breathtaking reunion of the living and the dead remains intact. But thanks to the changes made, the impact is even greater in this revival.

This production of TITANIC truly deserves a life on Broadway. I am really hoping that somehow, that happens! The quality of what is on-stage in Toronto right now is second to nothing currently running in NYC. And while Broadway is ever-increasingly cutthroat and ever so reliant on the rehashing of cartoon movies and movie musicals, TITANIC could be a real welcomed breath of fresh air. Transferring this show to Broadway is something that needs to happen. Just as Rex Reed rightfully identified the original production as a “genuine addition to the American Musical Theater,” this revival will take its place among the recent revivals like Cabaret and the short-lived Side Show that just may outdo their predecessors. TITANIC plays at the Princess of Wales Theatre through June 21st. For tickets, visit the show’s official Web site @: http://www.mirvish.com/shows/titanicthemusical.

1 Comment »

  1. […] embark on a national US tour in 2016. My review of the phenomenal production can be found here: Theater Review: TITANIC: The Musical, Toronto. Playbill’s  Adam Hetrick reports on the closing of […]

    Pingback by Intimate Production of TITANIC Ends Toronto Run « Dr. Blackwell's BLOG — Sunday, June 21, 2015 @ 03:10

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