‘Titanic’ at Westchester Broadway Theatre is unsinkable!

Published: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 1:00 pm By: DEBRA BANERJEE Source: Scarsdale Inquirer

If you missed your chance to see “Titanic” on Broadway when it played in 1997, go right now to Westchester Broadway Theatre to see the new, intimate adaptation of Maury Yeston and Peter Stone’s musical about the doomed “ship of dreams.”

The Broadway production, although it won five Tony Awards, including for best musical, was sunk by an outsize budget, a huge cast and many technical problems. With a pared down cast and minimal sets, this new “Titanic” is shipshape. I loved everything about it, and you won’t find a finer cast anywhere.

The story of the RMS Titanic, one of the worst maritime disasters in history, continues to fascinate. The luxury liner sank on April 10, 1912, after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York and 1,500 lives were lost. There have been many books and films about the Titanic, and mind you, the musical has nothing to do with the romantic James Cameron film.

Don Stephenson, director of the WBT production, and original “Titanic” cast member, recognizing the prohibitive costs of staging the musical, had the idea that a downsized version would make the show more accessible to regional theaters. He approached Yeston, who was in the audience on opening night, and Kevin Stites, musical director of the Broadway production, choreographer Liza Gennaro and musical director Ian Weinberger to reduce the score and whittle down the entire production. The result is a tight ship of a show that efficiently, but powerfully weaves together the dramatic elements that make the Titanic’s story so compelling — the individual hopes and dreams of the passengers, the Downton Abbey-esque disparity of the ship’s class system, the hubris of White Star Line’s management.

The songs, soaring and lyrical, eloquently express the wonderment of the age that could have produced such a magnificent vessel; the buoyant optimism on the life-changing journey; and the human frailty exposed when disaster strikes. 

There are the stories of the first class passengers, who live in unparalleled luxury aboard the ship. We meet Isidore and Ida Strauss (David Studwell and Kay Walbe) of Macy’s department store. The second-class passengers include Alice Beane (Donna English) and her Edgar (Philip Hoffman), the hardware owner. Mrs. Beane wants to hobnob with the upper class, beyond the means of her husband. The third class below deck includes the immigrant “Kates” (Sarah Charles, Elizabeth Hake, Celeste Rose) who aspire to jobs as ladies’ maids and governesses in America.

Barrett the Stoker (Xander Chauncey) represents the working man, at the bottom of the ship’s hierarchy.    He, like the other Midland lads, keep the ship’s engines fired up with coal. He yearns for a better life and adventure aboard the Titanic, but trying to keep up with management’s demand for faster speeds is just another form of oppression.

Barrett has a wonderful scene with the ship’s telegrapher Bride (Jeremey Ellison Gladstone). He wants to marry his sweetheart when he gets back home after the crossing. Bride sends out a message to her in Morse code, the latest technology he is proud to have mastered.

Capt. Edward J. Smith (William Parry) is the ship’s distinguished commander who makes many uncharacteristic mistakes at the end of his career, including letting the lesser experienced Murdoch (Jonathan Brody) take a turn at the ship’s wheel before the ship strikes the iceberg.

J. Bruce Ismay (Adam Heller) is the arrogant chief of the cruise line who wants the ship to beat travel time records.

Original Broadway cast member Drew McVety plays Etches, the steward who serves the clientele with deferential calm, even when the ship is sinking.

Tom Hewitt Plays Tom Andrews, the ship’s builder.

The rest of the excellent ensemble includes Will Boyajian, Ben McHugh, Christian Palmer, Ben Estus, John Langley, Patricia Noonan and Noah Plomgren.

In the second act the tension builds unbearably as the ship takes on water and the passengers in disbelief are slow to put on their lifejackets. Bride sends out a frantic SOS, but there is no response.

The gripping story is powerfully told and director Stephenson keeps the action moving full speed ahead. Costume design by Derek Lockwood and Ryan Moller enhances period authenticity. Lighting design is by Andrew Gmoser and projections, effectively used to depict the boat, were designed by Howard Werner. Technical director is Steve Loftus.

The show will have an engagement in Toronto this summer and then is expected to open on Broadway in the fall of 2014. See this show at WBT before it sails off Feb. 23.