Theatre Review

Titanic, the Musical

Thursday, April 5 was the final performance of Titanic, the Musical in Edmonton – the third of three public performances at the Winspear. That is the musical that won a Tony Award in 1997, and it was presented in memory of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The Edmonton production was a concert version, produced and directed by Two One Way Tickets to Broadway, a local semi-professional group of performers who love musical theatre, led by Martin and Stephanie Galba. The more than twenty lead singers were all local, including Anna Beaumont, accompanied by a 40 piece orchestra and the 100 plus singers of the Edmonton Metropolitan Chorus, with everyone in costume.

This version of the story is based on memories of survivors, documents and letters, written by Peter Stone, with music and lyrics are by Maury Yeston. It won the Tony award for Best Musical on broadway in 1997. There were about 40 lead roles, all sung by local singers in full period costumes. This production was directed by Barbara Mah, with musical and orchestra direction by Rob Curtis, choir direction by David Garber, and stage management by Stephanie Galba.

The story began joyfully as the passengers were lining up to get on the ship, admiring how beautiful and unsinkable it was. The music reveals that there are first class, second class, and third class passengers, plus various levels of crew. The audience began to learn the difference between these classes as we heard bits of some of their personal stories. As we began to get a sense of the real people who were on the Titanic, and their dreams for the future, we heard arguments between the engineer who designed the ship, the financier who wanted it to go faster, and the captain whose last voyage this was after 40 years at sea. We heard the dreams of some of the third class women of going to America to become lady’s maids, a governess, or cooks. There were many iceberg warnings, but in the confusion, nobody took it seriously. The first half ended after the ship hit an iceberg, and nobody believed the news.

Of course this is a real story, and we all knew the real ending. Just before the end, as the ship was sinking, the chorus stood up and began to wave and cry out, like they were crying for help in the water, which was so moving I got choked up and I started to cry.

In the second half, the passengers’ behaviour changed as the disbelief and arrogance of some of the passengers developed. There were not enough life boats or life preservers, and the third class passengers were locked below deck so the first class passengers would be first onto the lifeboats. Then we saw the women and children getting on first, and most of the men staying on board. The Edmonton Metropolitan Chorus portrayed the second and third class passengers.

The solo and ensemble singing of the leads was excellent. Showing an amazing depth of talent in Edmonton, their singing was authentic, animated, and moving. The chorus was in a supportive role for much of the story, and yet lent a sense of musicality and depth of numbers of passengers – the production would not have been the same without it. The chorus singing was heartfelt, yet not intrusive.

Of course this is a real story, and we all knew the real ending. Just before the end, as the ship was sinking, the chorus stood up and began to wave and cry out, like they were crying for help in the water, which was so moving I got choked up and I started to cry. The impact of the performance was inescapably beautiful and wrenching at the same time. The lead singers were wonderful, and the chorus was more than a musical support of voices – they were all were bodies and souls being lost at sea. The orchestra supported the action with haunting melodies. The audience knew the story was real, which made it so much more authentic, tragic and yet hopeful. For a largely non-professional group of local singers, it was a fantastic production – worth all the effort of the many rehearsals!

Joanne was supposed to be singing in the chorus, but had to teach on the night of the dress rehearsal and first performance, so she bowed out. It was a good opportunity to hear the production from the audience point of view.

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