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'Titanic, The Musical' on November 16 and 19 at Cineplex Theatres

'A poignant re-telling with class, dignity and suspense."

Courtesy of Cineplex

Joe Szekeres

Musical theatre lovers can rejoice on November 16 and 19, 2023.

Cineplex will screen ‘Titanic, the Musical’ in cinemas for the first time.

The multi-Tony Award-winning production (including Best Musical) was captured live on stage in its UK tour. It celebrates the 26th anniversary of the Broadway production and the 10th anniversary of the show’s London premiere. A point of interest - James Cameron’s film version also played in cinemas at the time of the Broadway premiere, but there is no connection between the two art forms.

During the final hours of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic was on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City when it collided with an iceberg. This quarter-mile ship that was deemed unsinkable slowly sank. This event is classified as one of the most tragic disasters of the twentieth century, with 1500 lives lost at sea of men, women, and children.

The musical focuses on the aspirations of the unsuspecting ship’s passengers from first, second and third class. The first-class passengers discuss wanting to leave lasting legacies. Second-class passengers imagine they too can join the lifestyles of the wealthy, while third-class passengers just dream of wanting a better life in America. What’s fascinating again about the Titanic’s story is the class system and the immigrants who came to North America. Let’s consider our grandparents and parents – we are all connected to the immigrant story.

I was fortunate to have seen the 1997 Broadway production, which included theatre artists Michael Cerveris, David Garrison, Brian d’Arcy James, Ted Sperling, and Victoria Clark.

When I received a notice that the show was filmed and presented in a cinematic format, my first thought was, why? Outside of the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the show’s London premiere and the 26th Broadway anniversary, was there a particular reason for doing it? The show has made its rounds in the community theatre/touring theatre circuit; is there anything unique outside that?

This filmed touring production answers that question.

With ticket prices soaring out of reach for some live theatre shows, ‘Titanic, the Musical’ makes sense for budget-conscious theatregoers. Arguably, it’s not an authentic live theatre experience since some might lean to the reality that film distances its audiences from the immediate live action.

That doesn’t matter in this case in seeing this stylishly filmed production. There’s a great deal to enjoy about it.

For one, the film captures facial reactions and responses from the characters, whether in song or dialogue. How often have we attended a theatre production sitting up in what is known as the ‘heavens’ only to see tiny figures moving about on the stage? Yes, the moment's immediacy and electric excitement cannot be recaptured again – can we all recall our first time seeing Lord Lloyd-Webber’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’?
But there’s more to enjoying the experience and making personal connections to the story.

In the case of ‘Titanic, the Musical,’ the film captures a great deal that enormous live theatre houses cannot do.

Audiences can once again hear Tony Award winner Maury Yeston’s lush, dulcet, and haunting Tony Award-winning original Music Score in stereo sound in a large screening room. Vocal arrangements are heavenly, especially the final moment when Mr. and Mrs. Strauss choose to remain on board the ship. A bonus is the pleasing, impeccable sound balance between the orchestra and the singers. Every single lyric of Mr. Yeston’s resonates clearly.

Peter Stone’s Story and Book remain charming and poignant. Thom Southerland directs the UK tour, with Austin Shaw directing for the screen. Their compassionate vision and staging of the events still pull at the heartstrings as they have captured the essence of natural, credible people. I felt for these characters again and reached for the Kleenex to dry my eyes. David Woodhead’s set design functionally re-created the visual setting of the doomed ship. His costume designs are faithful recreations of the period.

Recently, I spoke on the phone with Maury Yeston (‘Nine,’ ‘Grand Hotel’). He calls himself a cineaste, along with loving the theatre. He calls the film: ‘an astonishing accomplishment in filmmaking.”:

“It [the film] captures every single face the size of a movie screen. You see every exquisite intimate expression on the actors’ faces from the most subtle wink of the eye to the curl of the lip that you could never see on the stage…What a gift (director Thom Southerland and the creative team) have given us…The performances of the actors are spontaneous, brilliant and haunting.”

When I asked Maury why 2023 audiences should revisit this world-renowned story, he said that some may not have seen it and want to experience it themselves. He then turned my questions around as audiences might wonder what kind of a maniac he was for even considering developing the story.

Yeston points to history first to answer my question.

In 1912, the world was at the apex of the glory of British engineering of commanding the seas, the maritime movement and construction in the world. Why wouldn’t there be a dream of wanting to construct a ship that would be deemed unsinkable as a sign of that glory? That dream is no different from Jonas Salk’s dream of developing a vaccine for polio.

In contemporary times, musicals are written because they inspire and elevate and can show us the best of people as they dream.

Ergo, in 1995-96, as he was thinking about the possible subject matter for a musical, Yeston marvelled at the heroism of the Titanic’s story. It brought together a reconciliation of a contradiction – that man is the measure of all things, that man is the thinker. There is also the contradiction that man is an infinitesimally insignificant mote in the universe compared to the infinite size of the galaxy. The Titanic’s story brings together this contradiction.

Ironically, in Maury’s consideration of this decision, another historical event occurred – the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up – and it was his AHA moment when he compared it to the Titanic. That same event has just been repeated. There can be a failure when people dream, but they are still worthy of dreams. The poor souls who gave their lives onboard the Titanic and the Challenger to advance the human race must be acknowledged.

The reason 2023 audiences are to go and see ‘Titanic, the Musical?’ Dreams are positive. Dreams are also tragic because we try to do something worthy. Like fallible human beings, we failed in both historical events. We must always tell, and we must always learn.

That’s when Yeston began to work on the music and lyrics of the story.

As we concluded our telephone conversation, I asked Maury about a comment he made regarding the state of the musical theatre:

“If you don't have that kind of daring damn-the-torpedoes, you shouldn't be in this business. It's the safe-sounding shows that often don't do well. You have to dare greatly, and I really want to stretch the bounds of the kind of expression in musical theater.” ( BMI Music World, Fall 1997, pp. 24–29)

He still upholds this statement. He referred to his musical ‘Nine’ about Fellini. He jokingly said who knew what the play was about as it was all over the place as there was one guy and four women. ‘Felliniesque’ comes from this understanding as ‘Nine’ wasn’t a typical story. But it touched him nonetheless because there was something in it that made Maury’s heart sing that he just had to write it.

And with that final statement about a play that made Maury’s heart sing, see ‘Titanic, the Musical’ in Cineplex theatres on November 16 and 19.

I hope it will make your heart sing too.

Audiences can get tickets here:

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