Commemorating 110 years since the indelible maritime tragedy, Titanic the Musical in Concert celebrates the lives of the passengers and crew with an impeccably cast, splendidly sung and played concert.
One of the few Broadway shows to win the Tony Award for Best Musical but not have a commercial season in Melbourne, this lush concert from producer Paul Marrollo helps to correct this oversight. Titanic the Musical won five 1997 Tony Awards, and its gloriously melodious score, by Maury Yeston, can be heard in a cast recording treasured by many a musical theatre aficionado.
Playing Jonathan Tunick’s original orchestrations, 26 musicians perform on stage, confidently helmed by meticulous musical director Stephen Gray.
Two key features of Yeston’s score are his generous use of countermelodies and his sumptuous vocal harmonies for all of the ensemble singing. As the show progresses and basically every cast member has the opportunity to sing a solo, it quickly becomes clear as to why the massed choral singing is so wonderful: each and every cast member possesses a beautiful singing voice. Musicality is at a premium and the performance is all the richer for it.
Despite this innate talent and strong preparation, the score is not heard at its very best due to a combination of the echoey acoustics of Melbourne Town Hall and the sound design of Jarrad Gilson, which generally balances instrumental and vocal music well but includes a lamentable number of missed cues and often does not pick up the voices with sufficient clarity. Thankfully, the singers demonstrate excellent diction in their performances.
The concert staging is based upon the 2012 chamber version of Titanic the Musical, which sees the roles shared by a smaller cast.
Director Theresa Borg makes excellent use of space and heights, readily creating distinct zones of the ship and creating ongoing visual interest without the use of any scenery.
Borg’s storytelling is capably supported by lighting designer Jason Bovaird, who successfully draws the eyes across the wide stage of Melbourne Town Hall. Bovaird adds significantly to the visual interest, drawing attention to the majesty of the rear pipe organ, and filling the soaring overhead space with lush streams of coloured light.
Almost all of the ensemble cast of 23 plays at least two roles, the characters distinguished by small changes of costume along with varying physical expression. The success of Borg’s approach is exemplified by the pair of act one scenes, in which the rigidity of the elite first class passengers proclaiming “What A Remarkable Age This Is” is then neatly contrasted by the far more languid energy of Third Class, who share their life dreams in “Lady’s Maid.”
A significant number of characters are created, but the sheer number of these is something of a weakness of Peter Stone’s book. Barely any characters have more than one song, so it is difficult to engage with the arc of any characters. Painful as it is to write, James Cameron had the better idea, focusing his 1997 movie Titanic upon a compelling central couple, Jack and Rose.
While even a fully staged production of Titanic the Musical contains little dance, choreographer Katie Ditchburn contributes a lovely company number for act one charm song “Doing the Latest Rag.”
Legendary musical theatre star Anthony Warlow is a key drawcard to Titanic the Musical in Concert, and yet the ensemble nature of the show means that no role is much bigger than any other. Warlow has the perfect authoritative presence for Captain E.J. Smith, and makes the most of one of the more fleshed out backstories. His vocal tone as sumptuous as ever, Warlow’s scant amount of singing certainly leaves the audience wanting more.
Juan Jackson brings a focused presence to ship designer Thomas Andrews, a man facing a constant inner monologue of doubt as he second guesses his grand design. In a neat storytelling device for the concert, Andrews states the time and location of each scene and keeps constant gaze over the action. Jackson brings an authentic manner to both of these aspects of his performance.
As strutting peacock J. Bruce Ismay, director of the White Star Line, Kane Alexander brings a palpable sense of oily self-centredness, making Ismay’s cowardly assumption of a lifeboat space all too understandable.
The work of Warlow, Jackson and Alexander culminates in dramatic trio “The Blame,” as the three men turn on each other with desperate vitriol.
The ensemble cast is a pleasing mixture of veterans and newcomers.
Martin Croft and Natalie Gamsu honour the devoted passion of millionaires Isador and Isa Straus in 11 o’clock duet “Still.” John O’Hara delights as subtly camp steward Mr Etches. Lisa-Marie Parker is stylish and tantalisingly mysterious as spirited widow Charlotte Cardoza. Glaston Toft is reliably charismatic as J.J. Astor.
Shining in one of the most endearing roles, Johanna Allen supports her performance with particularly crisp diction as aspirational Second Class passenger Alice Beane. Allen is very well-supported by Martin Lane in the relatively thankless role of Alice’s ever-patient husband Edgar Beane.
Terrific singing voices abound in the young male cast. Jonathan Hickey (stoker Barrett) and Samuel Skulthorp (radioman Bride) are deservedly showcased in lovely countermelody duet “The Proposal” / “The Night Was Alive.” James MacAlpine (lookout Fleet), Callum Warrender (Charles Clarke), and Shannon Cheong (bandmaster Hartley) all prove themselves to be talents to watch out for in future.
With only a few scenes, Madison Green brings full life to young Irishwoman Kate McGowan. Marissa Economo anchors a very moving scene in which new mother Marion Thayer must leave her husband and she and her baby board a lifeboat.
The cast is rounded out by Amy Fortnum, Ava Mason, Alessandra Merlo, Shanul Sharma, Daisy Valerio, and Samuel Ward, each of whom makes an invaluable contribution.
Of the full company numbers, climactic act two sequence “To the Lifeboats” is particularly moving.
The dream remains that Melbourne might see a fully staged production. In the meantime, Titanic the Musical in Concert has presented a lovingly polished performance of the musical.
Titanic the Musical in Concert plays at Melbourne Town Hall until 6 November 2022.
Photos: Paul Mulligan