Southwest Ohio's Premier Entertainment Magazine

Friday, Nov. 5, 1999

What is Titanic, A New Musical?

“HOW DID THEY BUILD TITANIC?” a crewman sings as the musical titanic begins. Eighty-five years after the supposedly unsinkable ship hit an iceberg and went down in the Atlantic, the century’s most legendary tale of romance, adventure, greed and ambition, is being told live on stage.

When people hear that a musical has been written about the tragic voyage of the world’s largest ship, reactions range from curiosity to fascination to keen expectation. In fact, interest in the Titanic has never been greater. In the past few years, we’ve seen a mini-series, a major motion picture, several novels, and even a cookbook.

Titanic, a new, original American musical, is a joyous, breathtaking and often heartbreaking show that captures the scope and humanity of what went on during the ship’s historic voyage.


The sinking of the Titanic in the early hours of April 15,1912, remains the quintessential disaster of this century. A total of 1,517 souls – men, women and children – lost their lives (only 711 survived). The fact that the finest, largest strongest ship in the world – called, in fact, the “unsinkable ship” – should have been lost during its maiden voyage is so incredible that, had it not actually happened, no author would have dared contrive it. This is the factual story of that ship – of her officers, crew, and passengers. In the style of recent musical dramas like Les Miserables or Miss Saigon, the 40-plus characters in Titanic express their emotions through song. Though the sinking of the Titanic was an epic event that demonstrated the fallibility of man’s nature, the story captures us most on a human level. We want to know what it was like to have been on the ship, and we are deeply moved by the tragic situation of those innocent people. We feel the grand sweep of their lives through the passionate music of Tony Award-winning composed Maury Yeston.


The musical is indeed based on fact and follows the story of the Titanic chronologically. The show starts with the launching of the ship at Northampton, and the final scenes take place with the survivors on the Carpathia. Most of the characters are based on actual people: John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, Captain E.J. Smith, J. Bruce Ismay, Frederick Barrett, Harold Bride. Some dramatic license has been taken with some secondary characters, but they are a composite of actual passengers and crewmembers. After a recent discovery that contact with the iceberg resulted in six small gashes, a line in the show was changed to reflect the new piece of information.


Audiences grow to care about the characters in the musical as they watch these people respond to an extraordinary situation. The men and women of Titanic manage to break your heart and lift your spirits at the same time. Act One is completely celebratory – this was, after all, the maiden voyage of the largest grandest and safest ship in history. Act Two is a progression among both the passengers and crew from denial, to doubt, to realization, to acceptance, and finally to panic, as the extent to the catastrophe became more and more evident.