It was a story that captured the imagination of a generation – the unsinkable ship that sank on its maiden voyage, leaving over 1500 passengers dead and triggering international headlines, investigations and intrigue. Stories of the passengers on board, the clash between first and third class and the mystery of its sinking has made it one of the most famous tragedies of the 20th century and the public’s continued fascination with the story has spawned films, documentaries and exhibitions over the intervening years. Capitalising on the renewed interest created by James Cameron’s movie version of the tale, in 1997 Titanic the Musical opened on Broadway and was the winner of several Tony Awards before starting an international tour.
The first half of the musical introduces us to lots of characters that are reflections of real life passengers on board – something that was crucial to the writers of the musical. Each character reveals their perspective through the musical songs and reflects the different experiences across the first, second and third classes.
The enduring hope within the third class passengers, dreaming of finding their happiness and their “American dream” on the shores of New York City which keeps their spirits high in the lower decks. This clashes with the elegance and self importance of the first and second class passengers who have everything they every dreamed of and more.
The story develops explaining the dynamic between the captain and White Star Line’s Bruce Ismay to reach New York in record breaking time – although this is laboured quite a bit and more time could have been spent on developing the other characters.
The second half is much more emotional, focusing on the tragedy of the sinking ship and the stories climax as each of the passengers learn and accept their fate. “The Blame” is probably the strongest song in the score and the delivery from each of the characters in this number showed great passion, frustration and over arching guilt as each man is blamed for the disaster in a different way.
The finale was quite spectacular in the way in which the simple yet effective choreography and staging brought the show to the rousing and affecting close. As the surviving passengers delivered their final monologues in front of a display of the names of all those lost at sea, it conveys the reality behind the Hollywood version of the story and the theatre was silent.
The performers of Titanic The Musical delivered a strong performance however at times they were let down by a weak musical score – aside from The Blame and the Finale – In Every Age / Godspeed / Titanic – there was an absence of showstoppers and the dialogue failed to allow the audience to develop a relationship with the array of characters presented.
It works as a period piece examining the details. The public interest in the story of Titanic will continue to see the musical fill theatre halls. A pleasant watch but not one that will live long in the memory, unlike the ship itself.