Titanic presented by Griffin Theatre at Theatre Wit. Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston. Book by Peter Stone. Directed by Scott Weinstein. Runtime 2 hour & 10 minutes with 1 intermission.
In 1997, the original production of Titanic sailed onto Broadway with a cast of 45 actors winning 5 tony awards. The largest ship ever built was set to sail back onto the great white way this year with a new chamber version of the show but has since been postponed. Instead, Griffin Theatre opened their 26th season with the first major U.S. production of the newly revised Titanic.
This new production features an ensemble of 20 actors doubling as numerous characters. It features music originally cut from the show and tightens the action to focus on a smaller, select group of passengers. There is a greater focus given to the 2nd class couple of Charles and Caroline Clark, with an added song but it feels unnecessary to give them more importance than their 2nd class counterparts Edgar and Alice Beane. However, the shorter run time aids the pacing of the piece.
Director Scott Weinstein’s staging is inventive and continually keeps the piece active. There are small nuances of brilliance throughout the piece including a model of the ship made out of suitcases and chairs, moving staircases serving as the engine’s boilers, an especially effective staging of the loading of the life boats and a clever effect to show the rising of the water on board that I won’t spoil. Although, some of the humor is brushed over, the aesthetic of the stage pictures are pleasing.
Mr. Weinstein’s design team give him a very flexible playing space (Joe Schermoly scenic designs and Brandon Wardell lighting designs, respectively). The moving staircases allow for multiple areas of the ship to be utilized with a large piece of the ship’s hull as background. The portholes provide the lighting and there is never hesitancy from the audience that we are indeed on the ship with the actors. Rachel Sypniewski’s costumes are ravishing and aid in disguising her constantly doubling cast.
The ensemble is at its best when in full group numbers and interacting together. There is a strong sense of community among the mostly young, attractive cast. However, the whole is better than some of its parts.
Among the brightest stars on the Titanic’s moonless night is John Keating as the foppish steward Mr. Etches. Mr. Keating mixes excellent comic timing with just the right amount of pathos as the ship reaches its fate. Jeff award winner Justin Adair is in fine voice as the stoker Barrett. His rich baritone voice blends beautifully with Royen Kent’s Harold Bride in “The Proposal/The Night was Alive” and is one of the most memorable songs of the evening.
Neala Barron is a strong, willful Alice Beane. Her rendition of “I Have Danced” is filled with longing and is one of the emotional anchors of the show. Her husband Edgar (Jake Mahler) is not as strong, often playing for humor ineffectively. The other 2nd class couple Charles and Caroline (Matt Edmonds & Laura McClain) have excellent chemistry and Edmond’s breaks your heart in “We’ll Meet Tomorrow”.
Josh Kohane as Frederick Fleet gives a sweet, haunting rendition of “No Moon”. Peter Vamvakas is a strong, grounded Captain Smith. Kelly Abell, Christine Mayland Perkins and Courtney Jones as the three Kate’s lead a strong rendition of “Ladies Maid”. However Miss Jones as the spunky Kate McGowan often times over powers her beau (Kevin Stangler as Jim Farrell) and lacks vulnerability in her softer moments.
Griffin’s production is ambitious, inventive but flawed. The dedication and community of its players will grow over the run and the hesitancy and tentativeness from Saturday’s final preview should fade. The production is worth seeing, if for the reason to see a piece known for large bulky sets stripped down Chicago style. Titanic is sailing at Theatre Wit through December 7th.
Titanic runs through December 7th. Performances are Thursdays & Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. www.griffintheatre.com
Reviewed by Drew Shanahan