Tragic Supership

Published: Monday, February 3, 2014 7:00 am By: John Simon Source: Westchester Guardian

The musical “Titanic” won five Tony awards in 1997 for composer / lyricist Maury Yeston and book writer Peter Stone, despite the fact that musicals, also known as musical comedies, tend not to be tragic, let alone on so catastrophic a scale: over 1500 dead and only 711 survivors.

This was a huge, very costly Broadway production with sets and costumes by Stewart Laing, direction by Richard Jones, choreography by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, and a distinguished cast of forty some. Not least impressive was a three-tiered model of the Titanic, its progressive sinking plainly visualized.

Great, but unfortunately not repeatable on a smaller stage and budget. So Don Stephenson, a member of the original cast, devised, together with the composer, a version for only twenty performers and six musicians, reduced plot and shorter running time. There remain, however, couples and some individuals from first, second and third class, along with various crew members, and, in first class, some very rich and famous people.

Given that there were far too many amenities and far too few lifeboats, those saved were women and children and a few first-class men obviously favored. There were as well some women choosing to die with their husbands. Displayed was much heroism along with some selfish cowardice, including that of J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line that owned the Titanic, and who kept prodding the captain to ever greater, indeed fatal, speed.

The historic plot involves abundant bad luck as well as human error, and a great deal of that survives even in this shorter version. The set designer, Patrick Rizzotti, did what he could for this revival by the Westchester Broadway Theatre with its intimate playhouse and 3/4 in the round seating, but not a little is left up to the audience’s imagination.

Hearty praise, though, for Don Stephenson’s direction, Liza Genaro’s choreography, Derek Lockwood & Ryan Moller’s costumes, and Andrew Gnoser’s lighting, with Howard Werner’s projections perhaps a bit more rudimentary than strictly necessary. In any case, enough remains for audiences not to feel cheated.

The cast is still too numerous for individual mention, though it should be noted that the original production’s Drew McVety returns in a couple of roles, doubling prevailing pretty much throughout. 

Yeston’s score is not quite up to his best, as in “Nine,” but still good enough, with especially notable choral numbers, however much of the lyrics gets lost in the process. Various types of musical numbers are involved—there is even some comedy—always respectable albeit not outstanding. There is also a surprising amount of dancing, commendably performed. And absence of the original version’s large orchestra proves not too drastic, what with that able handful of musicians under Ian Weinberger’s direction.

Do try to catch this show that, rather rare among musicals, leaves you with quite something to think about on top of having been generously entertained.  How would you have behaved under these dire circumstances?      
For tickets call (914) 592-2222 or visit
John Simon has written for over 50 years on theatre, film, literature, music and fine arts for the Hudson Review, New Leader, New Criterion, National Review, New York Magazine, Opera News, Weekly Standard, and Bloomberg News. Mr. Simon holds a PhD from Harvard University in Comparative Literature and has taught at MIT, Harvard University, Bard College and Marymount Manhattan College.

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