TITANIC

Ok so not all the reviews were good, but at least the performers were spared….

The Observer & Eccentric

Thursday Sept 16,1999

Theater Performers shine, but this ‘Titanic is second class

By John Katz

There’s a song in the satirical musical “Forbidden Broadway” that zings the downsizing of Broadway show when they go on the road. It’s called “Teeny Todd (the smaller version of Sweeny).” Throughout the evening’s voyage of “Titanic,” one senses that we’ve been booked into second-class passage for 1997’s multi Tony Award-winning musical.

To back off for a moment, the award-winning elements have all made the trip. “Titanic” boasts a monumental and moving score by Marui Festoon (‘Nine,” “Grand Hotel”) and a book by Peter Stone (“1776”, “the Will Rogers Follies”) that sticks to the facts of that night to remember. “Titanic” also won for Scenic Design, Orchestrations and Best Musical. How it did not win for its over 180 wondrous costumes is a “Titanic” mystery.

The show’s title subject hailed wide-eyed by passengers and crew as “the ship of dreams…a human metropolis…the largest moving object in the world,” is, however, a most non-existent. Only tow scenes in the first act (pre-iceberg) occur on the Upper promenade Deck in front of an abstract ocean drop. The rest of the action takes place below, and by its succession of interior settings seems exactly the “floating ‘Grand hotel’ “ that the creators sought to avoid.

By intention, he show also downplays special effects in favor of factual and composite characters, who are often presented in threes. The stoker, lookout and radioman warn of the natural forces destined to destroy the ship: Too much speed, too little visibility and the icy immovable object lurking in the “flat calm” of a moonless April night. The ship’s owner, builder and captain reveal fatal character flaws: Greed, compromise and compliance, respectively. Finally three Irish emigrants down in steerage, all named Kate, sing of their dreams as they said toward the new world: “In America you rise above your class.”

Leaving hundred-million-dollar special effects to the film version, we’re asked, in return, to contribute too much imagination n the name of Theatre. There is, as noted, little sense of location, and no feeling of the power of ship slashing through ocean. At the very least, a continuous low-level background of turbines and propellers in Act One would convey such presence. Watching “Star Trek” episode and hear how much a “loop tape” of the Enterprise’s engines adds to the perception.

Performance and voices in this starless cast are uniformly superb. J. Bruce Ismay of the White Star Line was a first-class weasel, and Adam Heller plays him with oily gusto, insisting on greater speed to “create a legend.” Architect Thomas Andrews (Kevin Gray) goes quite mad at the end, frantically redesigning his blueprints on deck as bodies slide past him to their deaths. Stoker Frederick Barrett (Marcus Chait) clings to his girl’s photo while proposing marriage over the wireless telegraph; Chait’s voice is a marvel of engineering in itself.

Other standouts included Liz McConahay as Alice Beane, a second-class passenger who finagles ways to rub elbows with the rich; Dick Beditz as her suffering husband Edgar; Dale Sandish as radioman Harold Bride, who gamely taps out his S.O.S. to ships too far away by 1912 capabilities; and understudy Carl N. Wallnau who filled in admirably as Captain E.J. Smith.