Denver Rocky Mountain News
Arts & Entertainment

March 3 1999

Shipshape Touring ‘Titanic' docks at Buell with new spurt of creative energy

by Thom Wise

You’ve got to love a guy who can laugh at himself. Kevin Gray is currently starring in the national tour of Titanic, opening Thursday at the Buell Theatre. However, in Forbidden Broadway, the New York production that satirized all of the show on the Great White Way, Titanic takes a licking as does Gray for his work as the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera. Luckily, he’s a big enough person to see the humor in it all.

“I’m flattered if you want to know the truth,” the star said during a recent telephone interview.

After leading roles in Phantom, The King and I, and Miss Saigon, Gray said it’s a thrill to be in an ensemble production. In titanic, he plays Thomas Andrews, the ship’s builder and the person who first recognizes what dire straits the ship is in after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic.

“As so many of us have, I’ve started a compulsive obsession about the Titanic,” Gray said. “It’s such a compelling piece of history, and every time it’s told we’re reminded how fragile life is. It’s a collision between hope and nature, how ordinary people act in extraordinary circumstance, and how in the end it doesn’t matter how much money you have or how powerful you are – everyone is equal in the end.

“Out of all the statistics that I’ve read about the sinking, the one that still gets me the most is the fact that more first- class men survived that all of the third-class women and children combined.”

As a piece of theater, the music to Titanic is what many people consider its best asset. In 1997, the show won in each of the five Tony Award categories it was nominated for, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Orchestration.

“You don’t get much better than Maury Yeston (who wrote the music and lyrics to Titanic, as well as Nine and Grand Hotel) – he’s so compelling. And most people don’t understand how important an orchestrator’s work is, but Johnathn Tunick is just about the best in the business,” Gray said.

“If you’ve seen the show in New York, you immediately see that it has a very different style. It’s not a carbon copy. That’s the nice thing about doing a tour – the designers learn things about what works and what doesn’t. It’s a new cast obviously and we don’t do what they did on Broadway. It gave the creators a new spurt of energy.

“(Specifically,) it’s more abstract, more of an open set and a very different style. You still see the three sections (of first, tourist and steerage classes), and the entire set tilts. It’s more expansive and shows more of the grandeur and how massive the Titanic was. Don’t forget that this ship was three city blocks long and people had to jump from the height of an 11-story building – at 2:30 in the morning!”

“Arrogance” is the word Gray uses to describe the chief cause of the accident. “They all thought that they had conquered technology. We’re still dealing with the same issues; but today it’s Y2K, viruses, and cloning. We’re literally I the same boat. I know that response has been mixed, but that’s good. We’re telling a story and of course people are going to react differently. But I also think that on our best performances, people are dumbstruck.”

When asked why local heroine Molly Brown wasn’t written into this version of Titanic, Gray laughed again.

“I don’t know thy,” he said. “I think she was in my favorite movie (about the Titanic), A Night To Remember. I guess there were just too many stories to tell. But the ship is really the star.”