The sinking of the great ship Titanic does not seem a fitting subject for a musical, but Maury Yeaton and Peter Stone dared to create it and Haddonfield Plays and Players is daring in staging it at their modest theatre in Crows Woods. The ill-fated ship was considered a marvel of technology, and another technological wonder helped to make this production possible: The use of projection helps to provide the setting and moods of the show. But, of course, it is the people who bring the story to life.
The story is familiar. As the musical opens, ship designer Thomas Andrews and others express amazement at the boat’s engineering. Gradually we meet the passengers. The third class is made up of emigrants seeking a better life in America. In second are middle-class people such as Alice Beane (Dana Hecht Kares), hoping to emulate the lifestyle of the very rich who are in first class.
Ship owner Bruce Ismay (David Nikithiser) wants to increase speed so that they can arrive in New York a day early. Andrews, Captain E J. Smith (Glen Funkhouser, who also worked on set construction and lighting design) and stoker Barrett (DJ Hedgepath) are concerned about the vessel’s safety, but they comply. Lookout Frederick Fleet (Ethan Abrams) does not spot the iceberg until it is too late to avoid hitting it and Andrews grimly reports that the ship will sink. There are only enough lifeboats for less than half the people aboard.
The first-class passengers, awakened in the middle of the night, refuse to believe that anything is wrong, but are ordered into the lifeboats. Women and children go first, but Ida Straus (Doreen DaCosta) refuses to leave her husband of many years (J’Tone DaCosta, Doreen’s real-life husband). Those left on board calmly accept their fate, and the captain bravely takes responsibility for the disaster. The survivors are rescued by the ship Carpathia.
TITANIC, THE MUSICAL was not a critical success on its 1997 Broadway launch, except for a positive review in the New Yorker, but audiences seemed to like it. A boost from talk show host Rosie O’Donnell and the James Cameron film, which came out later the same year, helped the show survive for over 800 performances. It went on to win Tony awards for Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book.
The music is not particularly memorable, but the characters are. Fine performances comes from Pitt as Andrews, Funkhouser as Captain Smith, Nikithiser as Ismay, the DaCostas as Ida and Isador Straus, and many others. Praise must also go to director Pat DeFusco, vocal director Brian Bacon, and the entire production staff for the wonderful sets, lighting, sound, costumes, projections, and everything that makes this show the ultimate Titanic survivor.
TITANIC: THE MUSICAL
Story and Book by Peter Stone
Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston
Directed by Pat DeFusco
October 18–November 3, 2012
Haddonfield Plays & Players
957 East Atlantic Avenue