"There's a place in America
And I'm hopin' it's a bit like Donegal!"
- Book by Peter Stone
- Music and lyrics by Maury Yeston
- Directed by Richard Jones
- Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
- Musical direction by Kevin Stites
- Opened 4/23/97 at the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre in New York.
Capt. E. J. Smith
3rd Officer, The Major Brian D'Arcy James Frederick Barrett
Robert Hitchens, Bandsman Bricoux
4th Officer, Bandsman Taylor, J. H. Rogers
Joseph Bell, Orchestra Leader
J. Bruce Ismay
J. J. Astor
John B. Thayer
Becky Ann Baker
Edith Corse Evans
This musical has an original story based on the real-life tragedy of the Titanic. You know it: the supposedly unsinkable liner, the largest mobile structure ever built, hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank with a tremendous loss of life (1,517 people, mostly the folks in the cheap seats). The musical introduces us to a whole bunch of individuals in first, second, and third class as well as the crew, the owner of the White Star Line (Ismay), and the builder of the Titanic. The individuals in first class, many of whom were Americans, were enjoying a luxury cruise across the ocean; the third-class folks were European emigrants to America, looking for the proverbial better life; and the travelers in second class were a mix of both kinds and were also rubbing elbows with the rich. The captain was at the helm for the last time before retirement, and Ismay was pressuring him to go faster and faster in order to break the speed record across the Atlantic. Also, compromises had been made in the construction of the ship; for one thing, there weren't enough lifeboats for the passengers. (They'd been left off to provide more deck space for first class.)
When the ship hit the berg, the radioman sent out a steady stream of SOS's, but the ship nearest them (the Carpathia) was too far away to get there in time to save the poor bastards who went down with the ship. "Women and children first" held true to some degree--ALL of the male American millionaires (many of them extraordinarily prominent Jews) died, but only two of the first class women perished. However, 155 women and children from second and third class drowned, a figure made all the more tragic by the fact that many of the lifeboats weren't full. The captain went down with his ship, but Ismay snuck onto a lifeboat. Ultimately, only 711 people survived.
- Overture/Prologue: In Every Age
- How Did They Build Titanic?
- There She Is/Loading Inventory/The Largest Moving Object
- I Must Get On That Ship
- The 1st Class Roster
- Godspeed Titanic
- Barrett's Song
- To Be a Captain
- Lady's Maid
- What a Remarkable Age This Is!
- The Proposal/The Night Was Alive
- Hymn/Doing the Latest Rag
- I Have Danced
- No Moon
- Dressed in Your Pyjamas in the Grand Salon
- The Blame
To the Lifeboats:
- Getting In the Lifeboat
- I Must Get On That Ship (reprise)
- Lady's Maid (reprise)
- The Proposal/The Night Was Alive (reprise)
- We'll Meet Tomorrow
- To Be a Captain (reprise)
- Mr Andrews' Vision
- Epilogue: In Every Age (reprise)/Finale
Entries in red were winners.
- Best Musical
- Best Book of a Musical
- Best Score
- Best Orchestrations
- Best Scenic Design (Stewart Laing)
My parents and I saw this show four or five years ago when it toured through Denver. It wasn't the worst thing I've ever seen by any means, but it sure wasn't the best--the cliches in the story were real eye-rollers. Overall, I enjoyed it. But Dad hated it so much that he has completely forgotten that he saw it. It was one of the few times where we disagreed so radically about a musical. (I can't remember what my mom thought of it, and she can't remember anything anymore, sigh.)
Well, over the years I've grown into Dad's position. As I've played the CD, I've grown to dislike it. No doubt the awards and the interest in the subject engendered by that stupid movie were the major reason it toured, but it's hard to imagine this thing entering the repertoire of standards. It is a profoundly flawed musical with book and score problems that are not fixable without a complete overhaul.
First, the book. It's always dangerous to tackle a subject like the sinking of the Titanic: the outcome is well known, so there's no point in making that outcome the focus of the story. The creative team was correct in emphasizing the people on the ship, but they made a huge mistake by introducing so many characters. There simply wasn't time to get to know any of the characters beyond the cliche level. Why, for example, did so many of the American millionaires have to be introduced? Why did we have to learn anything about the stokers or most of the crew beyond the captain and the radioman? How did having three Kates in third class serve a narrative purpose beyond a brief chuckle early on? Stone could easily have boiled down the story to several essential threads: the Captain/Ismay/Andrews, a first class couple (probably the Strauses), a second class couple (I suppose those annoying Beanes), and a third class couple or individual (one of the Kates). The story still would have had too many prominent characters, but at least they could have been explored in more detail, and the interesting theme of class distinction could have been strengthened. And it's extremely hard to care about characters so one-dimensional. The only genuinely touching moment in the show is when Ida Straus refuses to leave her husband, and they sing of their love for one another knowing they're going to die pretty soon. The show needed more such moments--not the embarrassingly cliched scene where the immigrants sing of their hopes and dreams when we know full well they're all doomed. They might as well be wearing the word "VICTIM" on their foreheads.
Another thing I can't understand is why the creative team ignored some of the very interesting, well-documented behavior of the doomed travelers, or many of the prickly facts surrounding the ship's launching. For example, some of the millionaires put ice from the iceberg into their drinks and toasted the berg. And Molly Brown isn't even mentioned; yes, I know she got her own musical, but that musical didn't spend any time on the disaster, so she could at least have been a minor character, and there could have been a nod to the Willson story--but that probably would have been too witty for this heavy-handed show.
I find it amazing that Stone's book beat out those for The Life and Steel Pier. Well, not so much for the latter, but The Life's book seemed much more engaging. Maybe the Titanic book played better on stage. Hard to imagine, though. (Oh well, at least Jeckyll and Hyde didn't win.)
Second, the score. Much of the music is very pretty, and some of it is even memorable. However, when I first got this CD--before I was seriously thinking about musicals, I'll have you know--and played it, I was struck that in the second act, the characters didn't seem to be reacting to their plight in their songs. I was waiting for some emotional songs that expressed fear and urgency... and they didn't appear. I realized that in many cases, either the wrong moments were musicalized or the moments were treated with too much detachment. For example, during the "To the Lifeboats" scene, when people are being herded into the lifeboats, the action stops dead for the hopeful-sounding "We'll Meet Tomorrow." The song is entirely too calm for this moment. Also, look back at the song list and note how many earlier songs were reprised. (I think this show is easily the reprise champ.) NONE of those songs were appropriate to the moment the second time around, not even with their light reorchestrations. I know Yeston understands what reprises are supposed to do--witness his successful and meaningful reprise of "Not Since Chaplin" in Nine--but time has obviously not been kind to his skills. They could have done more with the "Autumn" song as well; that could have been the ironic/tragic reprise that informed the second act, which would have made more sense, but they missed that opportunity.
Has anyone besides me noticed the unsuccessful echoes of Sondheim in some of the songs? Also, the notes sung for "Titanic" are the same as the notes for "sweet chariot" in "Swing low, sweet chariot," which is very distracting.
Lyrically, this show is a sinking ship. Yeston was never in the top ranks of Broadway lyricists, but his lyrics in Nine were considerably better than this. Nearly all the songs tell rather than show--they're all in horrendous passive voice. For example, rather than have the Wideners complain-sing about cold kidney pie, which might actually establish a modicum of character for them, the show has the chief steward instruct-sing "And the Wideners love kidney pie/Bring it hot, if it's not/they'll be fit to be tied." Many of the songs are laundry lists of information shoveled onto the hapless listener with little regard for the importance of the information to the plot. Worse, much of this information is repeated over and over--"No moon, no wind, no moon, no wind...." ad nauseum. Thank you, we know.
One last comment: there are TONS of cliches in the lyrics. "Fit to be tied." "What kind of girl do you think I am?" "In America the streets are paved with gold." Oy.
The cast is not to be blamed for this sinking ship, though they all tend to get lost in the shuffle. Only a few songs have fewer than three people singing on them; this is the ultimate ensemble piece. There are a few familiar names in the crowd: D'Arcy James, Garrison, Blazer, several others. D'Arcy James has one of the very few solos and performs it credibly. Poor Victoria Clark is saddled with a dreadful character--really, Mrs. Beane is the Jar Jar Binks of musicals, she's even more annoying than Norma in Victor/Victoria--but it's the only sizable female part besides that of Ida Straus captured on disc.
Quite nice. Full cast and orchestra list, technical details and personnel, song list with all singers and times, an essay by Peter Stone, a plot synopsis, full lyrics, some nice (if small) color pix in a montage over a historical picture of the ship, a list of "Titanic Facts and Figures"--statistics on the ship itself--and some more small color pix on the back of the booklet.
I want to like this musical. I really do. But every time I play it I get more and more annoyed at it--the cast of thousands, the useless book, the lousy lyrics, the poor choices for musicalization. The music itself is the show's one saving grace; wrongheaded or not, much of it is lovely. Alas, I am forced to admit that the promise Yeston showed in Nine has largely dissipated. One hopes that on his next project he finds a lyricist to work with. Anyway, if you like his stuff and you don't care about lyrics or characters, you should check Titanic out. Fans of individual performers in this show won't find much here to excite them, but it's worth it if you're a completist or collector. I think people who go for the big European shows would also like this musical.
For More Information
- Here is a nice website with considerable detail about the sinking: http://www.titanic1.org/articles/titanicpastandpresent1.asp#resume. Read it and see what the creative team of the musical overlooked.
- From friendly reader Gina, this is a site with good summary information and a ton of links: http://www.uscitizenship.info/titanics-immigration-to-the-united-states/
- From friendly reader Tina comes this link about the steel used in the Titanic.
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