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Review of Titanic the Musical at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

Claire Machin and Timothy Quin in Titanic The Musical. Photo by Scott Rylander.
Claire Machin and Timothy Quin in Titanic The Musical. Photo by Scott Rylander.

I must come clean and admit that this wasn’t the first time I’ve seen Titanic The Musical. I first saw it on Broadway in 1997 and then this current production at the Charing Cross Theatre in 2016 where I sat two seats away from Maury Yeston who wrote the music and lyrics for this Tony award-winning musical and the two productions couldn’t be more different in size and scope. The Broadway original had a cast of over 40, an orchestra of 35 and a ship that actually sank! This production started out at Southwark Playhouse then transferred to the Charing Cross Theatre and also played in Toronto before heading out on this current tour, has a cast of 25 and an “orchestra” of 5, a fairly simple set and is all the better for the scaling down.

The show begins with a long song that introduces us to the various characters who are about to set sail (and one who isn’t) on the “unsinkable” miracle of modern technology, RMS Titanic. We meet J Bruce Ismay, the owner, Thomas Andrews the designer, Edward Smith the ship’s Captain, the passengers and the crew. There are the very, very rich traveling in First Class, the not so rich travelling in Second Class and the very poor who have scraped enough money to get them to the promised land of America in Third Class. We meet billionaires, young couples, stokers, cabin boys and Irish lassies as they set out on their fateful journey across the Atlantic Ocean. Some of them will live but most will die in the icy waters after the ship hits an iceberg in a story that has fascinated us for 106 years and has spawned blockbuster movies, books, TV programmes, documentaries and this spectacular musical.

This production is superbly sung by an ensemble cast a number of whom were in the original 2013 Southwark Playhouse production and have travelled with it and it shows in their superb, polished performances. The singing of the whole cast is exemplary and whilst there is disappointingly very little dancing, the choreography is very good. The “orchestra” of 5 sounds a lot bigger and the MD Mark Aspinall should be congratulated on this as should the Sound Designer Andrew Johnson. The set design from David Woodhead (who also did the excellent period costumes) is simple but effective using two levels to keep the action moving and Thom Southerland directs with his usual aplomb.

So, with all this going for it, why didn’t I love it more than I did – and I have had three goes! I think the problem lies in its size. The majority of the songs are “big” ballads and don’t always give the characters time to breathe. It’s a “big” story and the breadth of it means we don’t get to enjoy each character’s story as there are just too many of them as we jump from the grandeur of the first-class stateroom to the cramped below the water line, third class.

Yeston has written some fine songs with Act Two’s “The Blame” a standout as Ismay, Andrews and Smith accuse each other of causing the disaster but there are also songs about stoking and Morse Code that doesn’t work so well. I also felt that Peter Stone’s book is a bit po-faced and stiff adding to the feeling of everything being a bit portentous. However, underlying the big story is a tale of poor people struggling to emigrate to America and that resonates today; as they say, all human life is here.

This is after all a big Tony award-winning musical the size of which doesn’t always leave the West End and the audience at The Churchill Theatre lapped it up and gave it a standing ovation which the performances of the cast and musicians deserved. I have tried to love Titanic The Musical and failed but if you can get to Bromley this week or Bradford next week and Liverpool the week after, then I’m sure you’ll really enjoy it – critics aren’t always right!

3 Star Review

Review by Alan Fitter

In the final hours of 14th April 1912 the RMS Titanic, on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, collided with an iceberg and ‘the unsinkable ship’ slowly sank. It was one of the most tragic disasters of the 20th Century. 1517 men, women and children lost their lives.

Based on real people aboard the most legendary ship in the world, Titanic The Musical is a stunning and stirring production focusing on the hopes, dreams and aspirations of her passengers who each boarded with stories and personal ambitions of their own. All innocently unaware of the fate awaiting them, the Third Class immigrants dream of a better life in America, the Second Class imagine they too can join the lifestyles of the rich and famous, whilst the millionaire Barons of the First Class anticipate legacies lasting forever.

TITANIC THE MUSICAL
Music and lyrics by Maury Yeston
Book by Peter Stone
Monday 16th – Saturday 21st July 2018
https://churchilltheatre.co.uk/

Titanic The Musical
Book Tickets for Liverpool Empire
30th July to 4th August 2018

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