TITANIC THE MUSICAL
Story and Book by: Peter Stone
Music and Lyrics by: Maury Yeston
Orchestrations by: Ian Weinberger
Originally Produced on Broadway by Dodger Theatricals, Richard S. Pechter, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Plaza Theatre Company
Assistant Director-JaceSon P. Barrus
Stage Manager-Lindsay Batt
Musical Director-Caitlan Leblo
Set Design-Jay Lewis
Costume Design-Tina Barrus
Sound Design-G. Aaron Siler
Lighting Design-Cameron Barrus
Properties Design-Soni Barrus
Specialty Props-Deb and Mark Dandridge
CAST (in reviewed performance)
Alice Beane-2nd Class Passenger/3rd Class Passenger-Caitlan Leblo
Caroline Neville-2nd Class Passenger/Stewardess/Mme Aubert-Emma Brandenburg
Kate McGowan-3rd Class Passenger/Stewardess/Charlotte Drake Cardoza—Haley Twaddell
Kate Murphey-3rd Class Passenger/Stewardess/Mrs. Widener, 1st Class Passenger-- Megan Liles
Kate Mullins/Stewardess/Madeline Astor, 1st Class Passenger--Rachel Daniels
Ida Strauss/1st Class Passenger/3rd Class Passenger--Kathy Lemons
Da Mico/Multiple Passengers--Alina Jennings
Multiple Passengers-Makenna Clark
Thomas Andrews-Designer and Builder--Robert Twaddell
Barrett-Stoker/Guggenheim, 1st Class Passenger/3rd Class Passenger--Evan Beggs
Bride-Telegrapher/John Thayer, 1st Class Passenger, 3rd Class Passenger, (2nd Man in L.M.)/Band Leader Wallace Hartley--Josh Leblo
Fleet-Lookout/George Widner, 1st Class Passenger/Carlson/Stoker/3rd Class Passenger--Stephen Singleton
Captain E.J. Smith--Stan Graner
J. Bruce Ismay-Owner--JaceSon Barrus
Charles Clarke/2nd Class Passenger/1st Class Passenger--DJ Chola
Edgar Beane/Officer Boxhall/2nd Class Passenger/3rd Class Passenger--Darren Clark
Isidor Strauss, 1st Class Passenger/Steward (Launching)/Mr. Bell/Mr. Bell/Latimer/1st Class Passenger--Gary Payne
Senior 1st Class Steward /Officer Pitman—Nate Milson
First Officer Murdoch/ Bass Player—Bob Beck
Officer Lightoller/JJ. Astor, 1st Class Passenger / 3rd Class Passenger-Jay Cornils
Bellhop /Waiter (1st and 3rd Class)—Carson Clay
Reviewed Performance: 8/14/2021
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Live theatre is back in North Texas, and I cannot think of a better theatre company to celebrate such a triumphant return. Plaza Theatre Company in Cleburne, Texas never ceases to amaze me. From the stellar diversity in their production selections to the vast array of ensemble talent, I always know that a trip down to Cleburne is worth the drive. While I was excited to return to the comforting feel of a dark theatre, and to immerse myself into a world outside of current reality, I had to remind myself that while it was an exciting and most anticipated return, I was about to be entertained and educated by the story of history’s greatest maritime disaster.
The R.M.S. Titanic has always had an air of mystery surrounding it. “From the substantial lack of lifeboats” to the advertised description of being the ship being “unsinkable,” and even a foreshadowing of a similarly titled ship (“The Titan”) sinking in an 1898 novella by Morgan Robertson-almost 14 years earlier. In fact, we are still learning about the Titanic. Every day, the Atlantic Ocean continues to contribute to the deterioration of the pieces of the ship still sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic, slowly erasing its history with each day. One thing that keeps coming to my mind is how things might have been different if one small variable had been changed. If there had not been weakened iron used in the ship’s hull or if there had not been a fire aboard the ship before sailing out of Southampton days earlier.
Most famously associated with the 1997 James Cameron Academy Award winning blockbuster starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart, Titanic has been portrayed on the big and small screen, in music and dance, and has even been the subject of fantastic traveling and permanent museum exhibits-still educating and fascinating patrons over the last one hundred years. The same that the James Cameron film was released, the musical about Titanic would open on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Come awards season, the film took home the Oscar for Best Picture, while the musical sailed away with the Tony Award for Best Musical. Only saw Titanic the Musical once, and that was about 20 years ago. So, needless to say, I didn’t recall much, and was going in with a somewhat fresh pair of eyes.
The story starts out as the passengers are arriving to board the R.M.S. Titanic in Southampton, England. Audiences are introduced to the various stewards, and crew members aboard the R.M.S. Titanic, and the many passengers on that maiden voyage. From the extremely well-to-do John Jacob Astor IV, and wife, Madeleine, to Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Guggenheim, and even co-owners of Macy’s Department Store-Isidor and Ida Strauss, audiences are presented with a wonderful array of historical accuracy. Audiences also begin to learn about Captain E.J. Smith, ship designer, Thomas Andrews, and Chairman and Managing Director of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay, who came to international attention as the highest-ranking White Star Official to survive the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic-while infamously pressuring Captain Smith to increase ship speed to make it to New York faster-a mistake that plagued Ismay the rest of his life.
Told in the style similar to an opera or “sung-through” theatre (little dialogue, majority singing), the audience has been invited to board the R.M.S. Titanic and experience a journey like no other. I was instantly drawn into the world of April 1912 and was captivated by each story that was woven together by each class of passengers. From the young romance of couples in second and third class, to the lives of members of the crew, audiences are able to fully experience each story, and to connect with each individual telling their story.
Director Jay Lewis was successfully able to bring this ensemble of real and fictional characters to life on stage. It is evident that the cast worked well together and collaborated with a highly creative crew who clearly took their jobs seriously-while paying the appropriate reverence to the passengers and crew who lost their lives on that historic evening. From the simple, yet extremely effective scenic designs to the wonderfully detailed period costumes, and dramatic lighting-the crew was successfully able to re-create the “ship of dreams” and her tragically short maiden voyage.
Sets were designed by Director, Jay Lewis. Mr. Lewis certainly has a myriad of talents. I am always impressed with how scenic designers are able to conceive and conceptualize their ideas and make them come to life on stage. With Plaza Theatre Company, audiences are always guaranteed a treat with the scenic design. To begin, Plaza is in a unique situation having a traditional theatre-in-the-round. This really reminds me the theaters of yesteryear (specifically Casa Manana pre-renovation). Having a theatre-in-the-round lends itself to so many creative staging options. With this production, Mr. Lewis effectively is able to use each nook and cranny of the space. From the phenomenal rotating turntable offering the suggestion of the R.M.S. Titanic traveling on the sea (in actuality: a scale model of the ship mounted on a table), to the actual allusion of fire in the furnace of the steam room, and the explosions in the boiler room at the end of Act I (another scale model ship).
I will tell you with all honestly, that during both of these moments, I sat on the edge of my seat, took a deep breath, and said, “that is so freaking cool.” I wish it could have been more eloquent in my description, but indeed it was a total moment of awe and magic on stage. Something, I, personally have missed recently.
I was awe-struck to see the captain’s bridge on one elevated side of the stage, and to see the crow’s nest on the opposite side of the stage on the same level. It was a visually appealing set and was functional throughout the production. It was simple yet used effectively. It certainly provided the necessary elements for the telling of the story and was historically appropriate for the location.
Details from the scenic design were fantastic! From the wonderfully replicated White Star Line logo on the gangplank, to the wonderfully detailed glasses and dishes and even the boarding passes for the passengers. Props were designed by Soni Barrus, and it is evident that Barrus worked in unison with Mr. Lewis in researching and creating this production-and they certainly delivered. Deb and Mark Dandridge provided the specialty props. I particularly enjoyed seeing some of the nautical “antiques” that were placed and used on the sets.
The transitions from location to location were seamless. It was almost as if each act was one large scene. The production moved quickly, and I was on the edge of my seat with each moment of dialogue-even though I knew how it would end. The company did a fantastic job of telling the story, and I was most impressed with how the company collaborated with each member of the design/production team.
Cameron Barrus designed the lighting for this emotional musical. Barrus did a fantastic job plotting lighting that was appropriate for each scene and mood. The lighting was lively, energetic at times, but was also dramatic, blue, and somber at the appropriate times. It truly was visually pleasing. Throughout the performance, Barrus’ cuing to enhance each scene was spot on. It was amazing to see the effect of lights, and what they can do to an audience. The lighting complimented each scene and musical number in the production and was impressive to watch.
The sound was designed by G. Aaron Siler. Mr. Siler did a superb job with the sound design. As I entered the theater, I immediately recognized Orpheus and the Underworld as played on the deck of the Titanic (and immortalized in the movie by the string quartet that played as the ship sank), and other unique instrumental musical selections from Ian Whitcomb and the White Star Orchestra, and an album with music “as heard on the fateful voyage.” It is a quite interesting selection of music, and one that I will definitely be adding to my audio collection. I think that Sound Design can often be one of the most challenging areas of design, because there are so many varying selections of music, and listening and selecting the right song from the right time period to help the audience evoke a certain emotion or transport them to another time. Mr. Siler does all of the above and does it with great accuracy and care. From this audiophile to you, Mr. Siler, Bravo.
The Costumes were designed by Tina Barrus, the Grande dame of wardrobe at Plaza. Barrus designed costumes that were not only very appropriate to the time period but were exquisitely detailed and gorgeous. The colors used were bright, sparkling, and very inviting to each character. There was a definite delineation of passenger classes through the wardrobe, and each one was designed and put together with care and diligence. The most impressive element of the costumes were the hats. I absolutely adore vintage millinery. From the magnificent plumage to the bright colors-Barrus captured the grace and elegance of the early 20th century.
If pressed to mention one observation that I felt, took me out of the moment (albeit only for a brief moment) was some of the heavier and more modern make-up on a couple of ladies in the ensemble. Comparatively, when placing women of first- and second-class side by side with these other two ladies in the “upper crust” ensemble, the first relied on their natural beauty with less make-up as opposed to the ones wearing heavier make-up. While I realize that in a production with so many fantastic elements, this is miniscule. However, it did take me out of the moment-if only briefly.
JaceSon Barrus was incredible in the role of the deplorable J. Bruce Ismay. Through facial expressions, body language, and a wonderful English dialect, Mr. Barrus depicted Ismay as a heartless and reprehensible man-who was only concerned with making a name for himself, and then, saving himself from the fate of Titanic on that tragic evening. Mr. Barrus instantly grabbed my attention and was a strong tour de force on stage.
In the role Captain E.J. Smith was Stan Graner. In perhaps one of the toughest roles in the story to portray, Mr. Graner was able to capture the pressure, stress, and disappointment that Captain Smith was likely under during his final voyage as Captain Smith before his retirement. There were some lovely moments of conflict between Ismay and Captain Smith as he was pressured to increase the speed and to perhaps beat the record for time for a trans-Atlantic crossing, despite the talk of icebergs being fairly close. It was evident that Mr. Graner had excellent on-stage conflict with Ismay, but also portrayed a commanding leadership role and on-stage chemistry with his fleet and fellow officers.
In the role of Thomas Andrews was Robert Twaddell. In another challenging role, Mr. Twaddell worked well on stage with Mr. Graner and Mr. Barrus. I enjoyed seeing Mr. Twaddell take audiences on a character journey throughout the story. As the evening begins, Andrews has a wonderful song in the Prologue (“In Every Age”) as he marvels at some of the most wondrous things mankind has accomplished-including the grand R.M.S. Titanic, given the nickname “unsinkable.” I can imagine this would have been initially a grand moment in any designers’ career. As the fate of the ship began to reveal itself, audiences could see Mr. Andrews slowly disintegrate, just as the ship would on the evening of April 15, 1912. Mr. Twaddell played the role with genuine honesty and worked well with Barrus and Graner-depicting the “behind the scenes” events that plagued the events of that evening.
Second Class Passenger Alice Beane was portrayed phenomenally by Caitlan Leblo. Ms. Leblo had several funny moments as “pseudo” busy body always wanting to be in the midst of the crowd of First-Class Passengers. Her delivery was similar to what I would expect of an actresses’ depiction of the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown who was surprisingly absent from this version. Ms. Leblo has an extraordinary singing voice. Not only does she deliver with her comic timing, and delightful singing voice, but she also serves as the Music Director for this production. Ms. Leblo truly brought out the talent of an outstanding vocal ensemble.
In the role of Crewman Barrett (et al) was Evan Beggs. he nailed the delivery of the dialect, and really made a connection to the characters in the story. I really felt an instant connection with his character, and I am confident in saying that he delivered the story of Barrett with honesty and a genuine delivery. By far, the best performance of the evening was Nate Milson in the role of Etches, the 1st Class Steward who provides everything that 1st Class Passengers would need on their voyage (even mentioned serving them on other ocean liners and becoming like family to them). Mr. Milson provided a constant voice of reason and a kind and gentle ear for the various passengers and crew aboard the ocean liner. Mr. Milson’s speaking voice was strong and commanding, and he truly took charge of the stage. I look forward to seeing Mr. Milson in future productions-as his delivery was pleasant and enjoyable to watch.
The most touching moment on stage was the absolutely heart-wrenching duet between Isidor and Ida Strauss (played magnificently by Gary Payne and Kathy Lemons). In their song, “Still,” they express their love and commitment to each other as First-Class Passengers who decide to die together, rather than Mrs. Strauss use her privilege as a woman to get into one of the precious, and few lifeboats. One of Mrs. Strauss’ lines of dialogue that was so important was “My life would be nothing without you...” A true testament to their love and devotion for each other. Absolutely moving.
This production of Titanic the Musical is definitely worth seeing. The attention to detail is evident in all aspects of this production makes for an entertaining and wonderful lesson in history presented through a theatrical experience. From the moment the lights go up, and audiences are introduced to the various passengers in various classes of travel, you will be instantly drawn into the world of April 1912, and taken aboard the “ship of dreams,”-the R.M.S. Titanic. This production of Titanic the Musical is hauntingly beautiful, and celebrates the triumphant return of live theatre, and believe me, that has been something that has been dearly missed during the last seventeen months. I urge you to get out and trek down to Cleburne to the Plaza Theatre Company and see Titanic the Musical-learn a little history, enjoy a beautifully created production, and support live theatre. Make a day of it. You will not be disappointed.
Plaza Theatre Company at Dudley Hall
305 S. Anglin St.
Cleburne, TX 76031
Plays through August 28th.
Thursday-Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm
Tickets are $25.00 and $23.00 for seniors 65+, Students (high school/college) are $23.00, and children (12 and under) are $15.00.
For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.plaza-theatre.com or call their box office at 817-202-0600.