Titanic the Musical (2014) at Musical Theatre Southwest: The Final Review
Titanic the Musical originally flopped on Broadway. Released only eight months before James Cameron's earth shattering blockbuster hit, the original production sadly didn't get the chance to ride the Titanic Mania tidal wave in the wake of the movie. Despite its loss, Titanic the Musical is a masterpiece of both music and drama. It dives deep into the lives of those who made up the ship's compliment.
Not only is the first performance of Titanic the Musical at Musical Theatre Southwest but it is the first in the state of New Mexico. Since the original production boasted one of the most expensive sets ever assembled on the Broadway stage, the challenge is evident for any community theatre project. Yet Musical Theatre Southwest has delivered on a strong rendition of this fabled tragedy, one worthy of seeing again and again.
The Titanic Exhibition, the world famous display of real Titanic artifacts recovered from the wreck, is the world's only tangible window to the famous ship and souls her sailed on her. Recently the traveling exhibition was showcased in Albuquerque and it's influence made it to the stage of Musical Theatre Southwest.
First time director Brian Clifton choose to tell the story as if one was walking through that very exhibition. As you walk through priceless artifacts, you are teleported back in time to 1912, moments before the ship sets sail and the saga of the disaster then plays out before you in real time. The audience is instantly immersed in a 360 degree world of music with action performed both in front and behind the audience.
Real life 3rd Class Passenger Kate McGowen did not survive the sinking and her body was never found.
Casting & Character
There is no shortage of remarkable musical talent in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Titanic features some of the best. The entire cast performed with 1st class energy and skill. With the audience so close to the action, it is essential for a cast to remain focused and draw from the audience own energy. The 'buffer zone' that normally exists between stage and audience is erased. Now that the actors find themselves in a situation usually found only in film. You cannot break the illusion and you must emote your character from the eyes, face and body.
Julia Parma as 3rd Class Passenger Kate McGowen
No doubt exists that Miss Julia stole the show. With a flawless Irish accent and enough energy to power a city, Julia was simply amazing. There wasn't a dry eye in the house during her emotional sole in "Lady's Maid."
Colin Burdge as Radio Operator Harold Bride
Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat changes gears for a more serious and heartfelt roll in this musical tragedy. Collin Burdge's rendition of Harold Bride, the assistant radio operator touched the audience once with his perfectly pitched masterpiece of a voice infused with a powerful range of emotion.
Set & Prop Design
In a black box theatre, the intention is to perform with minimal physical set design, only what is needed, allowing the audience to build the world around them in their minds. As you enter the theatre, you feel you've entered a shine of Titanic artifacts and memorabilia. Front and center, a breathtaking, intricately detailed model of the four funneled floating city sits front and center. Lining the walls, key artifacts of the ship sit in soft lighting; the Marconi Telegraph desk, a first class dining table, a piano. Center stage a multi-tiered solid white platform faceted with the blueprints of the ship and crowned with the ship's wheel telemotor and throttle telegraph. Minimal in its form, yet powerful in showcasing various moments in the drama.
All other set pieces were wheeled in depending on the moment in time. Each simple in it's design, the ship's railing, first class dining room, the wireless room and a lifeboat. All brought in and out with one hand and little effort.
Propping a period show is always a challenge, especially on a community theatre budget. The few props this production had were of the highest quality. The most noteworthy was the Marconi wireless equipment all of which were built from scratch and as close as possible to the real thing.
Replaced after a fire that destroyed everything in 2011, Musical Theatre Southwest now boasts a brand new state of the art motion LED lighting system that creates unlimited lighting designs and concepts. Under the lighting direction of Albuquerque Little Theatre's Ryan Jason Cook, Titanic pushed this system to its design limits with sweeping lighting cues that really pushes the envelope in community theatre.
The best lighting moments highlight the most pivotal moments in the musical. The most powerful of all, the blame showdown between Captain E. J. Smith, J. Bruce Ismay and Thomas Andrews. Under the fiery red light of Dante's Inferno and as the ship sinks from under them, the the master, owner and builder trade the blame of the disaster. Finally as the three realize that the blame cannot be shoveled onto a single man's shoulder's the fire is extinguished by a freezing shade of North Atlantic blue, and finally to black.
Have you seen Titanic the Musical?
Musical Theatre Southwest prides itself on having a live orchestra present during each and every performance and production. It is one of the few theatres in Albuquerque to do so. Often with community theatre, reliance on canned music pumping through loud speakers is the norm. Trading the soul of the music for a sense of scale so to speak.
Under the musical direction of William W. Williams the orchestra was very tiny, three pieces in total. Using a keyboard, a bass and a drumset, Titanic's Tony award winning music was condensed into an acceptable mesh of MIDI and acoustic sounds.