Sings with the Fishes
No doubt about it. The tale of the doomed Titanic has reached true legendary status: It has finally become a Tony Award-winning, multimillion-dollar musical extravaganza titled, no surprises here, Titanic. When 1,500 men, women and children drown in the dark, cold northern Atlantic, there's just got to be a song in there somewhere.
In fact, it takes the characters in director Richard Jones's enormous production just under three hours to sing the entire history of the doomed steamship. Everything from the hubris involved in making the "unsinkable" vessel ("In Every Age") to the dreams of the working class who traveled in the deadly ship's bottom ("Lady's Maid") to the rush for the lifeboats as the vessel sank ("Getting in the Lifeboat") earns a tune in Peter Stone and Maury Yeston's show.
But this is not the sentimental story that made Leonardo DiCaprio a star. There are no beautiful, angst-ridden boys, nor any English roses here, and no tears fall for any of the ordinary folks who appear on this Titanic. Even though most of these characters are based on the real people who lived and died on the ship, they've been reduced to empty archetypes. They function on a symbolic level, but carry little dramatic power.
There are the three Irish Kates who dream of such things as becoming a seamstress, a governess and a maid. The man who stokes the fires sings a song that burns with the rage of his loneliness. (And while Marcus Chait as the stoker is the closest thing this show has to a heartthrob, his time on stage is minimal.) The ship's engineer does a fair amount of staring obsessively at the sorely miscalculated blueprints. The captain is appropriately bearded, big-bellied and stern-faced. And the ship line director, who argued for a more dangerous speed, is as slimy as Snidely Whiplash ever was. But none of these folks steps out of the shadow of this legend to become somebody we might care about.
The only real star is the ship itself, designed by Stewart Laing. The boiler room burns with real fire. Stars shine like jewels from a scrim depicting a vast, lonely night. And at the fateful end, the Titanic tips skyward and seems to sink into the stage. The effect is impressive. But there is nothing in all this to move the heart. The story remains distant, strange and a bit sad. There are no lessons here, not the sort that great legends should impart.
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