by Rebecca Rudnyk
Titanic: The Musical has a somewhat tumultuous history.
The grandeur of the original set prevented out of town tryouts, so kinks had to be worked out in the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre where it ran on Broadway in 1997-1999. Although it won all 5 Tony Awards it was nominated for including Best Book, Best Original Score, and Best Musical, the show’s director and cast members were snubbed. And although it has experienced a thriving 20 years in local and regional theatres worldwide, the original production did not recoup its investment. The show is a massive undertaking. Large cast, epic staging, and an unpleasant ending we all know about going in. So it can be taxing, and it can be done improperly. That all said, Arizona Broadway Theatre’s new production gets it just right. It is visually stunning, with soaring harmonies and fantastic performances.
Set aboard the ill-fated engineering marvel on its maiden voyage in 1912, Titanic is an exploration of the people who traveled on the ship, and the social classes that defined and divided them. There are 3 distinct castes, sorted on the boat as such, and officers and crew who distribute between them. First class includes many American multi-millionaires, including Benjamin Guggenheim and Ida and Isidor Strauss who owned Macy’s department store. The second class passengers are comfortably in the middle class, in some cases hoping their time rubbing elbows with the first class passengers will lead to new opportunities. And third class is full of optimistic and ambitious Europeans, hoping to establish better lives when they arrive in America.
Throughout the course of the show, we peer into the lives of people, many of whom we know are destined to perish. The cast is exceptional front to back, top to bottom. Standouts include Kiel Klaphake as Thomas Andrews, Trisha Hart Ditsworth as Coroline Neville, and the absolutely spellbinding John Knispel as Frederick Barrett.
Savana Laveille’s costumes are perfection, conveying the variance in character’s wealth through rich heavy fabrics and sparkling textures. This is a period piece, and the costumes take you right into the early 1900s, which is of increased importance because of the minimalist but effective approach of the scenic design. Nate Bertone’s set is a brilliant technical feat, splitting and separating as the damage to the unsinkable ship grows worse. And Kirk Bookman uses lighting to subtly but powerfully add impact to several moments.
Titanic: The Musical at Arizona Broadway Theatre is a mesmerizing production. Full of soaring high intensity moments, led by a cast of powerhouses. It delivers a level of magnitude that can only exist when a large company is blessed with a score that sometimes requires everyone on stage belting together. It is rich and awe-inspiring. A show to bring youngsters to as a means of teaching history in addition to entertaining them, and a show for anyone who appreciates theatre that makes you think and feel and shakes the rafters with incredible voices.
Titanic: The Musical is playing at Arizona Broadway Theatre’s beautiful Peoria venue through November 11th. Tickets are available from the ABT website, which also has some entertaining behind-the-scenes videos posted that are worth a watch. As always, the meal before the show is delicious and tied directly to the production, with some options mirroring those served aboard the Titanic.