Titanic

This past week, twenty people participated in AlliTitanicance’s Live & About to take in Signature Theatre in pre-opening performances of Titanic, the Musical. We began our post-performance conversation in the theatre lobby, joined by Director Eric Schaeffer, where he generously shared time with us despite opening that evening. My thoughts below. Won’t you join me sharing your understandings of the work?

 

 

5 comments on “Titanic”

  1. Robert Darling

    All the comments above inspire. You found in the work its source — humanity as protagonist — excellent. The ambitions and successes of Signature also inspire. Seeing another performance, the many startling images, the beautiful set taking the top off Signature’s Max stage impressed by its clarity and dramatic simplicity. The orchestra, beautifully dressed as a ship’s orchestra, fully in view, seemed so right. The score amplified the wishes of the composer to begin with Elgar and Vaughn Williams. As noted, the grand opening builds to an enormous climax, almost operatic in its musical language. It seemed on first hearing a bit too bombastic and discovering a new orchestration was commissioned, it might have found ways to soften the “grand” endings of the series of numbers in the first part. They seemed to me a bit too expected and “Musically” applause endings. Other ways might help produce a more coherent flow to the Act. As Susan notes high points, such as the “telegraph” duet, used music beautifully to tell the tale. The lovely duet with Mr. & Mrs. Strauss put humanity front and center. A very large and challenging undertaking.

  2. Heather

    Which were more powerful, the set or the singers? The staging and overall presentation of the story sucked the audience right into the drama of the time and place. The angled gangplanks put the action all around and above you in the audience, and especially at the end when they were cleverly used to communicate a sinking ship. I, like the rest of the audience, was stunned into silence during the ships – er, the show’s – final moments. Even though I knew what was historically inevitable, I was hoping to find a way to save the crew and characters from the icy ocean.

    The set alone was grand, but strong voices of the cast made for an enjoyable show. The ensemble numbers were powerful, suggesting the high emotions of the trip, and incredibly engaging. I particularly liked the dance number and the jazz piece (was that the same one – I can’t remember). This was an excellent cast and a wonderful production of Titanic. Afterwards, I re-watched the documentary on the finding of the Titanic, because I wanted the story to continue. It is a tragedy that propelled us into the modern world.

  3. Duane

    This is a very challenging piece-for the director, cast and audience. I struggled with the intended overall story as it felt during the opening numbers and scenes like quick snapshots of disparate characters making their hurried entrances and exits. But perhaps it was intended to emphasize the stratification of passengers by class who were by design barred from interacting with other classes in that society. It took an iceberg to have Mr. Andrews, the ship designer, finally in the last scene to realize that 1st, 2nd, or 3rd class has no meaning when the ship is going down. (Except mainly 1st class got the few lifeboats.) So agree that the protagonist was the humanity that shone through many of the characters as they tried to survive. Question that stays with me that was raised by our group discussion, “How do you live your life after you have been hit by an iceberg?”

  4. Sheila Murawski

    Dear Susan, You’ve written such a perceptive piece about “Titanic,” having viewed it only hours after arriving in DC from China! You are so much more knowledgable about the musical score than I, but it’s evident that over the years Eric has created an amazing pool of actor/singers. I live in Arlington and I am so proud of him for nurturing and showcasing so much talent and building a theatre that is among the best in the nation. “Titanic” is only his latest achievement. After 26 years of supporting and attending Signature’s productions, my husband, friends, and I have seen countless wonderful shows and seen the talented people Eric has fostered (not only actors/singers but also other directors, choreographers, musicians, designers, etc) develop into mega-star quality. It was so interesting to hear him explain that five weeks of rehearsal, four of which were in a plain rehearsal room, produced this incredibly complex production. These “Titanic” company members, many of whom have worked at Signature for years, obviously rose to the challenge of a supremely difficult production. Kudos to Eric. He’s the best.
    Sheila Murawski

  5. Susan

    Signature’s space in Arlington had been given over to designer Paul Tate Depoo III, who had conjured up symbolically the floating city, ship of dreams, with steep gangplanks that crisscrossed high above us — one could well believe the set might rise 11 stories high. But the show was not – as had been conceived on Broadway – about a ship as much as it was about the dreams and failings of the people aboard.

    Director Eric Schaeffer has tackled a grand scale musical and has made this lumbering behemoth lift up out of any watery grave and fly. I’ll wager this is Schaeffer’s directorial best. From its opening “launching” which morphs and builds to a huge anthem, “Godspeed Titanic,” the work, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, presents the most demanding of scores. Its tricky rhythms, complex lyrics, shifting focus, and multiple-casting ask a lot of the entire ensemble. But Schaeffer is undaunted and has stoked the company to get maximum power and volume out of cast and orchestra. It’s as if he has been building his company of regulars to this moment.

    The piece has an antagonist, played with menacing assurance by Larry Redmond as the owner of the Titanic, who cannot leave well enough alone to the professionals on the water. He displays hubris at its most swollen and disastrous. But who is the protagonist? Turns out it is humanity – the humanity gathered on the various decks, representing three classes, each with their own private relationships and dreams.

    All performers get picked up by a spotlight and given their chance to shine and emblemize the original passengers on the doomed maiden voyage, but no single actor gets to hog time or indulge in soggy emotionality. Moments whiz by as the tale moves inexorably to the end. Still there were standouts, starting with Tracy Lynn Olivera as the overreaching social climber in a devil of a solo introducing the folk in first class — but this singer-actor nails it. The wonderful tenor duet between Sam Ludwig and Nick Lehan juxtaposes a love-gram over the sound waves with the other wafting excitedly about technology. In the second act the “J’accuse” moment where Captain, Titanic Owner, and Ship Builder (Chris Bloch, Lawrence Redmond, and Bobby Smith) give us the most clearly written dramatic climax of the work, and these guys are terrific together.

    The musical moves in a series of snapshots, telling the story through juxtapositions of class and personality. The texturing of sound and character is brilliant. The first act knits together the characters and stories. The second act is about the end, a cold and tragic one for so many.

    I was brought to mind of another disaster: the 1982 Air Florida crash into 14th Street Bridge in the city of “form and regulations,” and the way a journalist, Roger Rosenblatt, described it. For him, that crash was not so much one of death and disaster. Just as on that cold January day in Washington, what captures us and lifts us in the those final moments of Titanic, the Musical, is that there were those on stage before us representing “human nature, groping and flailing in mysteries of its own, [who] rose to the occasion.”

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