Titanic: The Musical crashes into Lincoln Center


Irene Schultz

All aboard! Titanic: The Musical rose back from the bottom of the ocean in a special concert performance. With original music and lyrics by the famous Maury Yeston, the return of this beautiful Broadway masterpiece had an audience reminiscing in joy and sadness alike.

On Monday, Feb. 17, Manhattan Concert Productions presented a live concert performance of Titanic: The Musical at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center. The performance featured almost all of the original cast members from the 1997 Tony Award winning Broadway production.

Unlike the original Broadway cast run, this special concert event featured an ensemble chorus of high school choirs from around the country. With a stage of 250 chorus singers plus the full New York City Chamber Orchestra, a grandiose sound pervaded the concert hall.

For one night only, audience members had the unique opportunity to experience the striking score once again. Tickets went on sale in September, and on this one date, the house neared its 3,000 person capacity, making it a tight squeeze. In the world of Broadway and musical theatre, this was a once in a lifetime event not to be missed, as many famous Broadway stars attended the event dressed to the nines.

The audience was so enthusiastic they began cheering and clapping before the introduction even began, and didn’t cease their applause throughout the entire production, even when the performers were speaking or singing.

The full concert stage setup did not allow for a full production set, of course, but the simple backdrop depicting a vintage boat ticket for the voyage was an excellent yet non-distracting touch. The set and media designers made very good use of the backdrop by projecting different images and video on it throughout the show.

The production began with the date and time “April 10, 6:00 am” displayed on projection on the backdrop, and when the first actor entered the stage, the audience up roared, as their favorite performers reignited fond memories. The lead actor as well as the subsequent male performers were dressed in black suits and ties, the women in elegant evening gowns, all carrying the helpful black binder of lines and music.

There were not many props in the concert version of the show. However, the minimal props and pieces of furniture used all aided in the understanding of the plot and provided for seamless transitions to and from scenes, without having the entire Broadway set.

The most prominent props were the bright colored tickets that each cast member, as well as every choir member, held waving in the air in excitement, while waiting to board the ship in the chilling number “Godspeed Titanic.” During the number, old photos of passengers of the real Titanic steamship were displayed on the backdrop. Practical choreography also aided in establishing scenes without a set.

After the passengers boarded the ship, of which a photo of it was displayed in the background as it took off, on “Tuesday, April 9,” the character of Frederick Barrett was seen in the boiler room of the ship. Actor Brian d’Arcy James sang “Barrett’s Song” about life shoveling coal in the basement of the ship. James’ performance was the most memorable of the night as his amazing voice gave chills redundant Later Barrett sneaks into the radio room in the deep bowels of the ship to deliver a telegram message to his girl back home in Europe. James’ performance of “The Proposal” was a sweet and inspiring song to be heard.

The professional orchestra was a real treat for most Broadway-goers who usually only have the luxury of hearing a smaller pit orchestra accompany the voices from beneath the stage. The dynamics were very powerful and exciting, mimicking the intensity of certain moments in the show, and adding tension beneath spoken dialogue as well. However, the music was often times so loud and overpowering that the audience couldn’t hear the performers reciting lines or singing. The lack of microphones for some actors also caused hearing difficulties. The size of the adolescent choir was too large to allow the audience adequate hearing of the solo voices who sang on top of them. The music and voices sounded amazing, but individual words couldn’t be made out or understood, as hundreds were singing at once.
This show’s particular fictionalized account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic included several different stories occurring at once, with an emphasis on the social classes of the various characters. For those who have not read or heard the book or lyrics of Yeston and Peter Stones’ creation, there is a lack of the familiar characters Jack and Kate of the 1997 film account of the shipwreck. This created impatience and angst as audience members secretly waited for their favorite characters’ story to unfold on the stage before them, but unfortunately neglected to do so.

The stage version of the show also neglects to powerfully portray the crashing of the ship into the large iceberg. This tragically iconic moment had a tension build up to only slip by in an instant, almost unknown to the audience. Despite a poorly drawn triangular figure projected on the screen to represent an iceberg, what would have been a very powerful and dramatic moment was lost and provided for a disappointing and anti-climactic scene; leading into a very slow and less interesting second act.

However, taking into consideration that this was a concert performance of the musical, and not a fully staged Broadway production, an elaborate reenactment was not expected. With the emphasis on the live music, Manhattan Concert Productions succeeded once again.

Music and dramatic production aside, the story of the sinking of the Titanic is a powerful one in itself. One of the most memorable lines of the show asked, “How could such a terrible thing happen to such a marvelous ship?” The dialogue revealed that only 711 passengers survived the fatal disaster and a shocking 450+ seats were still left empty on the lifeboats that escaped the sinking ship toward safety, with many female characters forced to leave their husbands and male loved ones behind. The ship was only an unbelievable 9.8 miles from its destination, sadly ending its voyage too soon.

The show closed with a reprise of the opening “Godspeed Titanic,” with the entire company onstage once again holding their brightly colored tickets, waving in the air at the beautiful craft ahead of them with an awaiting adventure.