Titanic

Music & Lyrics by Maury Yestongriffin theatre

Book by Peter Stone

Directed by Scott Weinstein

Music Direction by Elizabeth Doran

New Orchestrations by Ian Weinberger

Produced by Griffin Theatre Company

At Theater Wit, Chicago

Stunning grand epic musical works on the intimate stage at Theater Wit

Not to be confused with the film of Titanic,  the musical Titanic, opened on Broadway in 1997. It won five Tony Awards including the award for Best Musical. Titanic is set on the ocean liner RMS Titanic which sank on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912. The grand musical epic Titanic opened on April 23, 1997 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre and ran for 804 performances and 27 previews, closing on March 21, 1999 with a cast of 45.  I saw the productions of Titanic at the Lyric Opera and at Northwestern University and I was impressed at the grandeur of the musical that contains rousing anthems and rich, hopeful songs. The Yeston musical captures the spirit of the maiden voyage that quickly turns into tragedy that brings out the nobility of the crew and many of the passengers.

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Titanic, the musical had not been produced much in regional theatre due to its large cast and epic scope until original cast member Don Stephenson developed a new chamber version that scaled down the work from 45 to 20 players, and with  new orchestrations (by Ian Weinberger) to make the score sound as if it was being played by the ship’s band. There also was material cut from the original production, as well as reordered and reassigned material. The result is a magnificent musical designed to impress on the smaller stages of regional theater.

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Chicago, under the innovative leadership of  William Massolia, director Scott Weinstein and music director Elizabneth Doran, is the first theatre to experience this newly reworked voyage of the Titanic from the crew’s and the passengers – first, second, and third class’ point of view. The brilliance of Maury Yeston’s score and the efficiency of Peter Stone’s book comes to life in the intimate Theater Wit stage.

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From the spirited opening sequence that culminates with haunting anthem “Godspeed, Titanic,” we witness terrific coral singing  by one of the finest non-Equity ensembles assembled in years on a Chicago stage. Not only did the dedicated cast play many characters, often doing quick changes into another character, but they deftly played a host of characters that gave the work an epic feel despite the intimacy of the playing space. Set Designer Joe Schermoly’s simple set work efficiently with the impressive Edwardian costumes by Rachel Sypniewski that evoked the look of Downtown Abbey.

This fast-paced two hour production captures the majesty of the grand ship as well as the hopes, spirits, and foibles of all three classes of passengers. From the rich snobs, to the social climbing second class, to the immigrant (mostly Irish) third class passengers, with depictions of the dedication of the crew and the servers, we experience the pleasures and opulence of the grand maiden voyage of the “unsinkable ship.”

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The rich assortment of songs captures the atmosphere as each passenger class and various crew members have their musical say. We heard fine ensemble harmonies well as rich solos from  talents like Justin Adair, John Keating,  Peter Vamvakas, among others. Neala Barron’s Alice Beane is a hoot as she nails her patter song . Life on board is sung in celebration of their adventure and the smooth voyage until the ship strikes an iceberg.

Act two is done tastefully and without becoming overly sad and sentimental. We witness what happened when it became apparent that the ship would sink and that there are not enough lifeboats for all the passengers.  Heroic dedication to duty by the crew, noble acts as well as ineptitude by the captain and many officers are dramatized.

This musical is a powerful, well sung and brilliantly staged production that proves that Chicago’s rich talent pool of non-Equity performers can mount a fabulous musical through sheer dedication to craft. If you have never seen Titanic, the musical, get to Theater Wit to take the voyage with the terrific artists at Griffin Theatre as they plunge into delivering a most powerful ode to the tragedy of the Titanic. You’ll be impressed with their stage craft and the rousing score. “Godspeed, Titanic” will run through your mind long after witnessing this fine production. It is family-friendly.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: October 24, 2014

For more info checkout the Titanic page at theatreinchicago.com

At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL,  call 773-975-8150, www.theaterwit.org, tickets $39, $34 seniors/seniors, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through December 7, 2014

Below is a video from the Tony Awards of the opening anthem from the original production of Titanic . The Griffin Theatre production sounds amazingly  similar on Theater Wit’s intimate stage.