Music & lyrics: Maury Yeston. Book: Peter Stone
Danielle Tarento, Steven M. Levy and Vaughan Williams for Capital Musicals Ltd in association with Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
The Lowry, Salford
07 May 2018 to 12 May 2018
In the same time it took between the infamous oceanliner hitting an iceberg and sinking beneath the Atlantic – two hours 40 minutes – this musical adaptation of its story manages to pack aboard a remarkably satisfying mix of character, drama and song.
Good luck, and good management, may have evaded the Titanic, but this original American production at last achieves an English performance worthy of its scale and class. It’s 21 years since it launched on Broadway, and despite picking up notable awards it has never quite taken off in the country that built the ill-fated vessel.
The symphonic stylings of Maury Yeston’s music and lyrics, coupled with the largely sung-through story-telling of Peter Stone’s book, might make it rather more challenging than some other modern musicals, but it is rewarding in its concentration on the very human dimension to the disaster.
Nowadays the Titanic story is remembered for the hubris that brought about tragedy. Shipowner Bruce Ismay’s insistence on speed, prompting Captain Smith’s gradual loss of command, and all compounded by a general feeling that for a nation at the peak of its powers nothing could possibly go wrong . . .
A large cast of 24, several of whom chop and change costumes between first, second and steerage class, make it a constantly busy production. It is essentially an ensemble performance, without ‘star’ names, but that does not hinder the likes of Simon Green, as Ismay, or Philip Rham as Smith. Like several others here, they first embarked on Titanic the Musical five years ago during a revival at Southwark Playhouse, and their experience shows.
Claire Machin, as social-climber Alice, and Devon-Elise Johnson, as equally-aspirational Kate, also make the most of their cameos.
A slightly over-long first act perhaps labours the point about on-board class structure and privilege, and anyone expecting too many theatrical special effects may feel short-changed. The show nevertheless manages a suitably cataclysmic collision, through lighting, and a vertigo-inducing capsize.
You would also need to have a heart of riveted steel not to be moved by the farewell to loved ones, aboard too-few lifeboats, or the final roll-call to the drowned.
Titanic the Musical skilfully manages its melodrama without ever becoming out-and-out mawkish.
Reviewer: David Upton