Melbourne Town Hall
“I know nothing about this story”, I overheard the woman sitting next to me say to her companion, “but I don’t think it ends well.”
Hard to imagine that the cruise liner Titanic hasn’t filtered into our collective consciousness. It’s spawned books, stage plays, not to mention the notorious box office hit movie. I suspect few would hear the words ‘Titanic’ without remembering Kate Winslett, arms outstretched, standing high above the prow of the ill-fated ship as Céline Dion croons “Life will go on”.
But “Titanic” is also a popular and successful 1997 Broadway musical that has toured world-wide and won five Tony Awards. With music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and book by Peter Stone, it’s an ‘upstairs downstairs’ look at the great ship’s one and only voyage from Southampton to New York in 1912, and documents the final, terrifying forty-eight hours, when Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, after less than two weeks at sea.
2022 marks 110 years since the sad end of what the media called “the unsinkable ship”, and producer Paul Marrollo has assembled a splendid cast for this concert version at Melbourne Town Hall.
The score is cinematic, ranging from Gilbert and Sullivan inspired vignettes, to ragtime, haunting ballads and rousing ensemble numbers. Anthony Warlow showed elegant restraint as Captain Smith, under whose watch the “floating palace” went down. His voice was like liquid honey and his final song, “To Be a Captain”, pulsed with regret and disappointment. Kane Alexander as the ship’s owner Ismay, was the villain of the piece, constantly urging Smith to go faster, change course, blaming everyone else for the disaster. Juan Jackson, as the ship’s designer Andrews, provided the musical’s moral compass, displaying a magnetic stage presence and impressive vocal agility.
“Titanic” is essentially an ensemble piece, based on the stories of real-life passengers, from poor Third Class immigrants who dreamt of a better life in the New World, to upwardly mobile Second Class passengers and finally, the billionaire Guggenheims and Astors who lounged in the First Class cabins. Many of the cast doubled as passengers and crew and it’s hard to single out individual performances, as they were all exceptional, both as actors and singers. But here are a few standouts. Madison Green as Irish immigrant, Kate; Johanna Allen as the ambitious social climber, Alice; John O’Hara’s fabulously camp Purser; Jonathan Hickey and Samuel Skuthorp’s duet, “The Proposal”, set in the radio room, combining Morse code and a gentle love song, was one of the best songs of the night. Finally, Natalie Gamsu and Martin Croft were highly affecting as an elderly Jewish couple who decided to die together, rather than be separated.
Director Theresa Borg and choreographer Katie Ditchburn made the most of the limitations of the Town Hall’s stage, keeping the cast moving, dancing, ensuring American and British accents were (for the most part) authentic and bringing out the personalities, foibles and all, of each cast member. The 31 piece orchestra was seamlessly conducted by musical director Stephen Gray and special mention should be given to lighting designer Jason Bovaird, who somehow managed to conjure up the illusion of a ginormous iceberg looming at the back of the stage. The sound quality of the production, however, was very disappointing. Although it improved during the second half, it was sometimes impossible to decipher what some of the cast were saying, and occasionally lyrics were drowned out by the orchestra. Hopefully this glitch will be fixed before the next performances of what is otherwise a hugely enjoyable production.
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