When I attend Lyric Stage’s resplendent productions I often feel I am not just enjoying superior entertainment, I am gaining a unique, immersive perspective into the richness of the American musical theatre genre not available elsewhere. Peter Stone and Maury Yeston’s “Titanic” fits into that category, at full tilt.
From the exquisitely arranged orchestrations conducted by Musical Director Jay Dias, to its consummately artistic staging featuring top drawer performances by thirty seven of the region’s finest singers, this show demonstrates the majesty of American musical theatre and its honest power to move audiences without multi-million dollar special effects and Hollywood gimmickry. It runs one more weekend: Thursday June19 through Sunday June 22. Get your tickets now for a Summer 2014 musical theatre high point.
“Titanic” essential facts don’t make it sound like a winning stage proposition. Write an American musical about the historical details of the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic focused on British class interactions, and feature a blend of symphonic music and ragtime along with standard musical theatre-type tunes. Due to its costly, complicated set, “Titanic” got no out of town tryouts before hitting Broadway in 1997. At first reviews were mixed, but the show seemed to catch on as it ran. Here’s an excerpt from the May 12. 1997 The New Yorker review: “It seemed a foregone conclusion that the show would be a failure; a musical about history’s most tragic maiden voyage, in which fifteen hundred people lost their lives, was obviously preposterous…. Astonishingly, Titanic manages to be grave and entertaining, somber and joyful; little by little you realize that you are in the presence of a genuine addition to American musical theatre.” Nancy Franklin. When the Tony Awards rolled around, the show triumphed: Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Scenic Designs and Best Orchestrations (also won at the Drama Desk Awards in 1997.)
This musical, with its sober, thought-provoking subject matter and soaring, complex orchestrations, arrives tailor-made for presentation under the inspired baton of Lyric’s Musical Director/ Conductor Jay Dias and his professional thirty-five piece orchestra. Drew Scott Harris directed “Titanic” for Lyric Stage in 2003 to positive acclaim. Margaret Hayden recreates Harris’ original staging in 2014, along with Emily Ford re-creating his choreography. The show is set for revival on Broadway.
“Titanic” fits boldly into one of my Best of 2014 Year in Review slots. What makes the staging so magical is its magnificent simplicity. A bare tiered scaffold adorns the stage, representing the hull or the various passage levels of the ship. Projected behind the scaffold, full across the full height and width of the Carpenter Stage, floats a blue-black velvet night sky, the exact sort of frigid, dark night sky that must have terrified the ship’s passengers when it struck an iceberg and sank. Musical numbers and interactions performed on the scaffold levels seem intimate and intense yet archetypal for human striving against terrible odds. These are real, historical people and also tragic ghosts. Instead of focusing on a great feat of stagecraft where human emotions pale beside special effects, the Harris-derived production features the human drama front and center. Lyric Stage brings the plight of the characters to life with gravitas and sincerity, casting some of the region’s finest actor/musical theatre singers from ensemble through key roles. Ryan Appleby, Greg Dulcie, James Williams, Randy Pearlman, Anthony Fortino, Mary Gilbreath Grim, to name a few: all grace the stage with clearly defined characterizations and excellent singing. The third class passenger ensemble, composed of three lasses named Kate heading to New World lives of hope, and one boyfriend Jim ( Kylie Arnold, Erika Larsen, Katie Moyes Williams and Drew Shafranek) paint a particularly poignant picture of the fragility of life. The thirty-five-piece orchestra, always in fine form, excels with “Titanic”. One finishes the evening with the sense that those who lost their lives in 1912 have been truly honored by this production and that the flame of human spirit burns fiercely like a faithful beacon in the soul’s dark night. Costume design by Ryan Matthieu Smith supports characterizations and helps keep the classes defined well, a key element in this unusual historically accurate show. Lighting design by Julie A. Simmons, properties design is by Jane Quetin and sound design by Bill Eickenloff follow in classy suit. Photos by James Jamison.
Peter Stone and Maury Yeston’s TITANIC runs June 19-22 in the Irving Arts Center’s Carpenter Performance Hall. Performances are June 19. 20 & 21 @ 8:00 PM and June 22 @ 2:30 PM.
Tickets: www.lyricstage.org or 972-252-2787