Photos – Belinda Strodder
The sweeping story of the RMS Titanic has been documented a number of times since the vessel made its tragic journey across the Atlantic over a hundred years ago. Titanic the Musical premiered on Broadway over 20 years ago, yet this is the first time Melbourne has had the opportunity to experience this adaptation of the fateful events.
StageArt have scored a coup in being able to present a new revival chamber version. This version allows the production to focus more intimately into the lives of some of the passengers – and enables the actors to portray three different roles – a first class, second class and third class passenger.
The story here is semi-biographical, based on real people, diaries, letters and news articles, and succeeds brilliantly in bringing to life the hopes and aspirations of the passengers. Numerous mentions of the "ship of dreams" alongside musical numbers such as I Must Get On That Ship and Lady's Maid echo the constant theme of yearning for a better life.
The other prevailing theme is one of guilt, as regrets and choices evolve into accusations and blame.
What this all means is that Maury Yeston (music and lyrics) and Peter Stone (story and book) have crafted a complex, but incredibly rich and beautiful piece of musical theatre. Yeston's music, in particular, stands out as stunning, haunting, and at times, quite operatic.
StageArt is obviously up for a challenge and has again succeeded in presenting an impressive production to add to this city's ever increasing love for quality independent musical theatre. Their recent production of In the Heights set the bar high, and Titanic the Musical only adds to their impressive resume.
Director James Cutler stages the action extremely well on a raked and mostly bare wooden stage. Having four of the musicians entrenched within this is an inspired decision, and strikes quite a powerful image during the ship's final moments. Mention must be made of musical director Kent Ross' contribution for creating a lush full sound with only six musicians, and excellent singing from the entire company.
The minor detractions which don't add to the quality of the overall production is the decision to have actors mime the use of various props and the sometimes overuse of wooden chairs which serve different purposes during the action.
The cast of 20, all prove to have formidable singing talents and form an impressive ensemble, especially in the larger musical numbers. While some accents are inconsistent, most actors have moments to shine as individual characters. Casey Withoos (as celebrity spotter Alice Beane), Paul Batey (Captain E.J. Smith) and Joel Granger (as junior wireless officer Harold Bride) were especially memorable.
This chamber version of Titanic the Musical is as grand and majestic as the ill-fated liner, but stands out as a wonderful tribute to the 711 survivors and the more than 1500 who perished on 14 April, 1912. Beautiful, tragic and quite moving. Try not to miss it.
Titanic The Musical
Director James Cutler
Venue: Chapel off Chapel | 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran VIC
Dates: 7 – 24 July 2016
Bookings: 8290 7000 | www.chapeloffchapel.com.au