Titanic - The Musical
 

 

Titanic Cast

Titanic – The Musical

Birmingham Hippodrome

****

Titanic sails majestically across the wide ocean between musical and opera with not a mishap in sight.

Musically it has some of the best choral work you are likely to hear outside the likes of Welsh National Opera, while Maury Yeston’s music and lyrics at times have hints of recitative or parlando.

Like all good scores it helps to carry the story along, setting the mood from the elation of boarding the largest and finest ship of its age to its descent into one of the greatest maritime disasters in history.

It is a story already well known, the ship that was unsinkable heading for New York on its maiden voyage until it hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic and was lost along with an estimated 1,517 passengers and crew.

Fifty three children died, one from first class and 52 from steerage – third class. More than three quarters of the third class passengers died while more than 60 per cent of first class passengers survived.

Class was woven into the disaster and Peter Stone’s book explores that theme with nothing too good for the millionaires while steerage, down below, are seen as little more than ballast. The wealthy include the likes of John Jacob Astor, thought to have been the richest man in the world at the time, with his new bride, Madeleine, 29 years his junior and mining and smelting magnate Benjamin Guggenheim.

Then there was Isidor and Ida Strauss played beautifully by Dudley Rogers and Judith Street. Isidor was co-owner of Macy’s with his brother Nathan.

She famously refused to go in a lifeboat to stay, and die, with her husband. He was 67, she was 63. Their moving duet Still is a memorable moment.

In second class we have the first class groupie Alice Beane, a comic creation in the hands of Claire Machin, who gives us an American with a hint of Hyacinth Bucket about her, who spends her time gate crashing her way in among the rich and famous much to the frustration of her husband, hardware salesman Edgar.

Timothy Quinlan’s Edgar having a nice collection of put downs and one liners.

Mrs Beane

Claire Machin as Mrs Beane and Timothy Quinlan as husband Edgar

And a whiff of scandal, at least in 1912, in second class, with Charles Clarke, played by Stephen Webb, and Lady Caroline Neville, who are eloping to be married in America. They have a lovely romantic duet, I give you my hand, while their parting number, We’ll meet tomorrow, as he forces her into a lifeboat while he remains to die, is a bit of a Kleenex moment.

Down in steerage we have Kate McGowan, played with a powerful determination by Victoria Serra. She is unmarried and pregnant by a married man so is off to America to be a ladies’ maid . . . and needing a husband fast.

She spots Jim Farrell, played by Chris McGuigan, who finds himself charmed, wooed and engaged in less than four days. Told you she was determined.

Then there is the crew. Of the 918 on board, 703 died, a higher percentage then even third class passengers.

They were led by Captain Edward Smith, the commodore of the White Star Line. He was to go down with his ship. Smith was from Hanley in Staffordshire, incidentally, and his memorial statue, sculpted by Lady Kathleen Scott, wife of  polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott, stands in Beacon Park, Lichfield.

Played by Philip Rham, Smith, aged 62, was an old sea dog who had followed his brother to sea and worked his way up from cabin boy.

But he was pushed by the ship’s owner, White Star chairman and CEO, J Bruce Ismay, to go faster so Titanic could dock early and create free publicity for his new vessel.

Simon Green exudes the steely determination of the hard businessman and there is a dramatic trio, The Blame, between Ismay, Smith and Thomas Andrews, the chief designer, about who is to blame not just for the collision but also the sinking of the unsinkable Titanic.

Greg Castiglioni, born, as the name suggests, in Italy, has a fine tenor voice, and carries the moral compass of the show, agonising at the decision to cut the number of lifeboats to 20 when 54 were required to save everyone.

The Blame

Greg Castiglioni as Andrews,  Philip Rham as Captain Smith and Simon Green as Ismay argue about blame while Oliver Marshall, as Bride, tries to summon help

Ismay, incidentally, is portrayed here as a sort of misguided villain of the piece which, admittedly, is kinder than most portrayals over the years.

There is no evidence he pushed to go faster and because he survived, jumping into a half empty lifeboat, the last to be lowered, a few minutes before the ship sank, he was portrayed in the American press as a coward, putting himself before passengers.

Ismay was ostracised by British society, yet an official inquiry found he had helped many passengers before jumping into the last boat  when there were no more women or children around.

In the radio room, desperately trying to summon help, was Harold Bride, played by Oliver Marshall, a rather sad man who finds relationships and even friendships hard, but takes comfort in the world of dots and dashes where he can speak to anyone anywhere on equal footing.

While the real diving force of the ship comes from deep below in the boiler rooms with the likes of stoker Fred Barrett, like the rest of the coal shovellers, a Midlander.

Barrett, played by Niall Sheehy, finds his way to the telegraph room to send a wedding proposal to his sweetheart and he and Bride sing of their own dreams with Fred’s The Proposal and Bride’s The Night Was Alive, sung side by side in a musical highlight.

Music is a strength of this production. It doesn’t have a show stopper of a song, or even one you could hum on your way home, but the music fits and carries the tale along with anthems at beginning and end with In Every Age and the now ironic Godspeed Titanic.

It is all helped by an excellent six piece orchestra under musical director Mark Aspinall, with a sound much bigger then their numbers suggest, although for a show with such a strong musical foundation, perhaps a few more bodies in the pit might have added a bit more colour and depth to the sound.

David Woodhead’s costumes are a visual delight while his setting is functional rather than spectacular, perhaps hampered by the constraints of touring. He gives us a two-tier set comprising a sort of promenade deck above a stage which serves as the rest of the ship from boiler room to first class dining, helped by atmospheric and effective lighting from Howard Hudson.

It allows for continuous action with the first act building up a picture of life on the ship up to the moment the iceberg hoves into view. The second act becomes a little confused, much as you would imagine it would on the ship as it listed and sank in the middle the night. The loading of the lifeboats has a built in emotional aspect but somehow lacks the heartfelt drama of what is a life and death moment as those chosen to survive merely hold the lowering ropes then walk off stage.

We are left with a gathering of the symbolic dead and then survivors standing before a memorial wall of the names of the victims.

Director Thom Southerland, a Walsall lad, avoids maudling moments, telling it much as it was, and he tries to involve the audience in the story with the excellent ensemble entering and leaving at times through the aisles.

But perhaps it is the magnitude of the actual event, our familiarity with the story, the sheer numbers of victims, or the number of characters we are asked to follow, with none given space to develop, that, despite the fate we know awaits them, it is hard to feel for them, to become emotionally involved with them as characters.

It had its touching moments, such as the Strauss dance as they waited to die, moments that tugged at the heartstrings, but often you felt you were an observer rather than being drawn into the story. Somehow it lacked a bit of heart.

That being said, this is still a fine musical, well staged and well directed, with a superb cast and ensemble, some wonderful singing, creating a thoroughly enjoyable night’s entertainment. In its own way, a night to remember. To 09-06-18

Roger Clarke

04-06-18

The Titanic was carrying 1,317 passengers on her maiden voyage, considerably less than her 2,453 capacity, so the loss of life could have been far worse.

Up to that time the minimum number of lifeboats were based on tonnage, 16 for ships of more than 10,000 tons, which meant Titanic was carrying more than the minimum requirement.

After the disaster both in the USA and Britain the regulations were changed to compel all vessels to have enough lifeboat capacity for the maximum number of persons that could be accommodated aboard.

 

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