Titanic: A New Musical
At Theatre Under The Stars until Aug. 18
Tickets: 1-877-840-0457, tuts.ca
The bar has been seriously raised at TUTS. Max Reimer, former artistic managing director of the Vancouver Playhouse, opened the 66th Theatre Under The Stars season with his hauntingly beautiful direction of Peter Stone (story and book) and Maury Yeston's (music and lyrics) 1958 musical Titanic: A New Musical. The music is wonderful and the story-well, we all know how it ends-had some of us choked up almost from the beginning. Unlike the movie, which we all know is just a movie, the actors on the Malkin Bowl stage are living, breathing men, women and children whose characters' stories grab us right from the Overture. With the full orchestra and ensemble on stage, Titanic is a titanic of a musical.
It opens with the boarding of the "ship of dreams." Some of the passengers board the 1,000-foot floating city because they can afford to and want to appear to be embracing "the new world." Others, like the three Kates (Jeannette Gibault, Alex Gullason and Michelle Bardoch), have come aboard as 3rd Class passengers to start a new life in what they believe is a "classless" America. One hopes to become a lady's maid, the others a governess and a "sewing girl."
Reimer, whose very first directorial gig at the Playhouse was the tremendously clever and entertaining The Drowsy Chaperone, is at his best when directing and choreographing musicals. Titanic is no exception and this production wouldn't be out of place on any "A" stage in the city. With the simplest of sets-ship's railings that slide on and off-and projections of still photographs of the actual Titanic (exterior, salons, boiler room, etcetera), Reimer makes musical magic out of disaster.
It's soon obvious why no one has brought this musical to town before: a cast of more than 40 and an orchestra, under the musical direction of Kevin Michael Cripps, of almost two dozen. With four exceptions (David Adams, Russell Roberts, Steven Greenfield and Alexander McMorran), all actors are non-professionals, all terrific. Many are Capilano University's Musical Theatre or Acting for Stage and Screen graduates including Sayer Roberts and Alexander Nicoll as boiler room Barrett and telegraph operator Bride respectively. Along with Bardach and others, these three fine performers illustrate the excellent quality of Cap U's training.
Titanic is not downhill all the way: "I had a wife once." "What happened?" "Nothing." Sassy, irrepressible Kate McGowan (Bardach) can be counted on to bring levity with her announcement of marriage. Who are you marrying? she's asked. "I'll let you know when I meet him," she replies with a sparkle in her eye. And then there's the old windbag who keeps going on about "godless hordes" he's met on his travels and Alice Beane (Stefanie Swinnard), a Second Class passenger with First Class aspirations.
As the ship moves inexorably on to its date with the iceberg, Reimer shows us what a grand time everyone is having with romances, dances and fancy dining. Old marrieds Mr. and Mrs. Straus (David Adams and Deborah Allman) sing of their love for each other while Barrett sings of getting back to the girl he loves.
And the ship sails on.
As the temperature drops, the conflict between Captain E.J. Smith (Russell Roberts), the ship's builder Thomas Andrews (Steven Greenfield) and the owner J. Bruce Ismay (Alexander McMorran) heats up. Faster, faster, Ismay demands while Barrett, down below in the boiler room, wonders why the captain is calling for top speed on the Titanic's maiden voyage.
This musical about disaster in the North Atlantic is no South Pacific-and that's a good thing in my book. Stanley Park couldn't be a more beautiful setting and the weather couldn't be better, either. It alternates throughout the summer with The Music Man, directed by Sarah Rodgers.