Monday, 11 July 2016

Titanic The Musical, July 9, 2016 ***1/2

Music & lyrics by Maury Yeston, story & book by Peter Stone
Presented by StageArt
Chapel off Chapel, until July 24, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
 Review also published online in Herald Sun Arts, Mon July 11, 2016 & in print, probably on Tues July 12. KH
 Cast pic Belinda Strodder

Titanic The Musical tells the story of the sinking of that mammoth, ‘floating city’ by focussing on the dreams and aspirations, budding romances and rocky marriages of the 2,224 passengers who perished or survived in that disaster on April 15, 1912.

James Cutler’s chamber revival production, with its cast of 20, band of six and frugal set design, is a capable, scaled-down version of Maury Yeston and Peter Stone’s original, 1997 Tony Award-winning Broadway production.

Stone’s narrative and characters draw on historical and personal documents to create a parade of rich, middle-class or working class characters and most of the cast play multiple roles as 1st, 2nd and 3rd Class passengers and crew.

Yeston’s music and lyrics is rich with soaring choral music and thrilling anthems such as Godspeed Titanic, poignant ballads and romantic duets, and the ensemble combines recent, musical theatre graduates with experienced performers.

The low, wooden decking of the set transforms, without scene changes or props, into the 1st Class salon, the corridors of 2nd Class and the confined spaces of 3rd Class, while the smoky image of the Titanic projects onto a rear screen.

The lack of elevated levels reduces the impact of the story’s socio-political focus on class distinctions, however, Cutler keeps the action moving on his single level set with pairs, groups and individuals from each class weaving across the stage in carefully choreographed scenes.

When off stage, the actors watch the on-stage action as if witnessing the impending doom, and they carry their simple, wooden chairs as they move on and off stage, a device that is sometimes distracting.

The skilful band, under musical director, Kent Ross, plays Yeston’s rousing music with gusto and the assured, on-stage string quartet is a constant reminder of the valiant band on the Titanic.

The quality of singing and acting is uneven in the production, but there are several standout performances.

Don Winsor, a warm-voiced baritone, is accomplished as Andrews, the proud but anxious designer of the ship, while Paul Batey’s rich voice brings gravitas to the Captain.

Greta Sherriff, as Lady Caroline, is a talented soprano singing I Give You My Hand with her beau, Charles (Matthew Hyde), and Casey Withoos delights as the comical Mrs. Alice Beane, singing the patter song, The First Class Roster, that reveals Alice’s desperate desire to join the wealthy and privileged.

Rosabelle Elliott is delightfully sassy as Kate McGowan, the pregnant, Irish emigrée who sings about her ambitions in the cheerful Lady’s Maid with other youthful, 3rd Class passengers (Molly Fisher, Matilda Moran, Sam Bennett).

David Irvine’s voice has an attractive timbre as Barrett, the feisty stoker, while Joel Granger as Bride, the telegrapher, has a boyish hopefulness and bright upper register, despite a sudden crackle in his voice.

Titanic The Musical entertains while cunningly including social commentary and historical fact in this moving story of the tragedy of the sinking of the unsinkable ‘ship of dreams’.

By Kate Herbert
L-R Sam Bennett, Amanda Stevenson, David Irvine, Barry Mitchell, James Brown (rear). Pic Belinda Strodder

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