Unlike the productions first outing in New York, the only thing you can predict about this wonderful musical is that the ship will sink!
Can a musical about one of the 20th century’s biggest disasters, where over 1500 people lost their lives, really entertain?This production handles it beautifully, where awe and spectacle are perfectly balanced with respect and humility.
‘Titanic’ has music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, and book by Peter Stone, and is making its second appearance in London, following a successful run at the Southwark Playhouse in 2013. This production, at the Charing Cross Theatre, marks the first in Thom Southerlands season as Artistic Director at the venue.
Those expecting a musical version of the popular movie, may be disappointed. There is no ‘Jack’ or ‘Rose’, or a particularly prominent love story. Of course, many of the characters appear and the general flow is much the same. It is, after all, a true story.
Rather than focusing on one or two main characters, the musical explores the lives of the different types of people aboard the RMS Titanic, on her maiden voyage. The characters that make up the ships crew will be most recognizable to audiences; ‘Captain Smith’, ‘Mr Ismay’ and ‘Murdoch’ are all present.
Luke George plays the ever-optimistic ‘Bellboy’, and nails it; he brings innocence to the role that could easily have been lost. We are reminded that over fifty bellboys, no older than 15 years of age, died aboard the ship, and it is detail like this that ensures the production commemorates, rather than exploits, the tragedy.
Fresh from his acclaimed run, as ‘Marius’, in Les Miserables. Rob Houchen is an under-utilised talent. The dynamic noticeably changes, for the better, when he is on stage. His impressive vocal ability sets the bar high for fellow cast members, who do rise to the challenge. In particular Niall Sheehy as ‘Barrett’ who also gives several impressive vocal performances.
The third class passengers, traveling to America for a better life, are wonderfully captured in “Lady’s Maid”, and are represented by a number of characters with varying hopes and dreams. Shane McDaid plays ‘Jim Farrell’, having originated the role in London, he immediately grabs the audiences attention as a loveable would-be protagonist.
It was Yestons intention that the second class passengers should be portrayed as people who wanted to imitate the upper classes. The character of Alice Beane, played by Claire Machin, captures this perfectly. Machin, who was most recently seen at The Shaftesbury Theatre in ‘Memphis The Musical’, is funny, familiar and comforting.
Finally, the first class passengers are comprised of The Guggenheims, The Astors, and their ilk, but it is Dudley Rogers and Judith Street in the roles of ‘Isidor’ and ‘Isa Straus’ that lead the way. Playing the real life co-owners of Macy’s department store, who did perish on the Titanic, their duet of “Still” is genuinely touching, demonstrating their love and sacrifice for each other.
Much like the ship itself; built in Belfast and destined to cross the Atlantic, we begin with songs which hint at Irish folk music, such as “Godspeed Titanic” and “Barret’s Song”, progressing to “Doing The Latest Rag”, which has a distinctly American vibe. The score is beautifully dramatic, understandably, the tone changes as the piece progresses, yet the score keeps pace, building tension and gravitas.
The ship, known as “The Mountain” in reference to its size, fits into the relatively small Charing Cross Theatre thanks to the simple but highly effective staging, which has the cast performing in the stalls almost as often as they are on stage. Lighting by Howard Hudson does an incredible job of transforming the set from boiler room to Grand Salon, and everything in between.
An impressive and experienced cast, spectacular score and clever staging, means that Titanic has all the right ingredients to make Thom Southerlands maiden voyage, as Artistic Director at the Charing Cross Theatre, plain sailing.