Titanic sails again, and breathtakingly so, as Moonlight Stage Productions gives Peter Stone and Maury Yeston’s Titanic the kind of production that might have transformed the 1997 Broadway money-loser into the box office bonanza it deserved to be.
Few 20th Century events exert the continuing fascination of the 1912 sinking of the Titanic. The mind still reels at the epic tragedy of a supposedly unsinkable ocean liner on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City striking an iceberg in dead of night.
2,224 passengers and crew—and only enough lifeboats onboard to carry half of them. 1,514 dead. Only 710 survivors, despite there having been space for 500 more.
And the “what ifs.” What if there had been sufficient lifeboats? What if the ship hadn’t been traveling at full speed so as to reach its destination in record time? What if a few critical modifications had been integrated into its design? What if a nearby ship had gotten Titanic’s SOS? What if? What if? What if?
These questions, and more, are at the heart of Titanic, winner of five 1997 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score.
Unlike John Cameron’s Oscar-winning film of the same name, Titanic (The Musical) offers almost as many plot threads as there are characters, a series of vignettes that introduce us both tp crew and to a cross section of passengers in this extremely class-conscious ocean liner, from the Third-Class voyagers who dreamed of starting life anew in a country whose streets were reputedly paved with gold, to the considerably better-to-do Second-Class travelers, to a First-Class passenger list whose names (John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, Isidor Strauss) were as famous in their day as own epoch’s Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Broadway’s Titanic was noted more for its behemoth of a set than for the power of its story and score, a shame because no one writes more exquisite melodies than Yeston, and Stone’s book gives each of its dozens of characters a mini-storyline to involve us in each one’s journey.
Second-Class passengers include a English couple for whom America offers the chance to marry far from the eyes of disapproving parents, and an American husband whose wife dreams of sneaking up into first class … and then makes it happen.
Featured among Third-Class travelers are a trio of Irish lasses each named Kate, the most outgoing of whom has her eyes set on marrying handsome fellow steerage mate Jim Farrell … once she has made his acquaintance (and before she starts to show).
Broadway’s scenic design is said to have been monumental, but Moonlight’s may work even better thanks to a combination of set pieces (the the ship’s bridge is especially well rendered) and projections of black-and-white photos and newsreel footage, pre-and-post- iceberg animations, and detailed backdrops that transport us, for example, to Titanic’s plush grand salon.
Still, if there’s anything that makes Moonlight’s Titanic a must-see, it’s the performances of an all-around superb cast (a virtually unheard of thirty-seven in all) under Larry Raben’s inspired direction and expert musical staging, particular attention being paid to telling individual, highly personal stories.
Norman Large’s commanding Captain Smith, Robert J. Townsend’s equally forceful Titanic designer Andrews, and Steven Glaudini’s deliciously weaselly White Star Liner director Ismay pass “The Blame” on each other to gripping effect.
Richard Bermudez stokes fires in more ways than one as Barrett, Eric Michael Parker reveals a man’s love for technological progress as radioman Bride, and each shows off heavenly vocals both in solos and when duetting “The Night Was Alive.”
Katie Sapper, Shaina Knox, and Sarah Errington could not be more vivaciously winning as “The Kates,” the first of them sharing a heartstrings-tugging romance with Scott Arnold’s oh-so appealing Jim.
Bets Malone provides delightful comic relief as Alice, a Second-Class passenger whose illicit visit to a First-Class-only dance inspires her to wax poetic to husband Edgar (an appropriately disapproving Greg Nicholas).
Bryan Banville (Fleet), Joseph Grienenberger (Etches), and Matthew Malecki (Hartley) dazzle vocally as well.
Jason R. Bailly, Sean Barnett, Bradley J. Behrmann, John George Campbell, Carlin Castellano, Ashlee Espinosa, Chaz Feuerstine, Johnny Fletcher, Emily Gordon, Joseph Grienenberger, Lise Hafsø, Eric Hellmers, Rae K. Henderson, Christine Hewitt, Janaya Mahealani Jones, Theodore Leib, Connor Marsh, Shayne Mims, Paul Morgavo, Heather Megill Reba, Debra Wanger, and Evan White complete the cast to perfection in multiple cameos, with featured dancers Castellano and Feuerstine “Doin’ The Latest Rag” quite delightfully indeed. (Karl Warden provides additional choreography.)
Across-the-board kudos go to lighting designer Jean-Yves Tessier, sound designer Jim Zadai, projection designer Jonathan Infante, make-up designer Kathleen Kenna, wig designer Peter Herman, property master Bonnie Durben, and to the production’s uncredited scenic and costume designers, sets provided by Gateway Set Rentals and costumes by The Theatre Company.
Musical director Elan McMahan elicits exquisite vocal harmonies that are backed by Moonlight’s Broadway-caliber twenty-six-piece orchestra under her baton.
Further program credits are shared by Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd, and Carlotta Malone (costume coordination and execution). Justin A.M.M. Hall is technical director. Stanley D. Cohen is stage manager. Sarah Zimmerman is assistant stage manager. Chandler Payne is production assistant.
Spectacular and personal in equal measure, Moonlight Stage Productions’ Titanic is Southern California musical theater at its most extraordinary.
Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista.
August 21, 2016
Photos: Ken Jacques Photography