Don’t expect to see anyone standing on the prow of the ship, arms extended, in Orpheus Theatre’s Titanic: The Musical.
Unlike the James Cameron film, there is no Jack, no Rose, and no Céline Dion. Nor is there just one story. The musical, which premiered June 1, tells the stories of nearly 50 people aboard the ship on its ill-fated maiden voyage.
“Unlike a typical musical, where you might have ten or twelve lead characters and the rest are a singing and dancing chorus, everybody in this cast plays a role,” director Debbie Miller-Smith said. “So even though it’s a big cast, it’s very much an ensemble cast, and you see how some of those stories intertwine.”
Even with the massive cast, the singing and acting are strong across the board. Although the audience expects them, the scenes of the ship’s evacuation are heart-wrenching.
The show has its standouts: Justin Hills displays his impressive vocal ability in the role of stoker Frederick Barrett, and Jim Tanner delivers a wonderfully deadpan performance as chief steward Henry Etches.
The cast’s excellent performance allows the story and the exceptional score to shine. Some of the scenes are little more than vignettes that showcase one or two characters, but it’s an impressive sight whenever all 47 actors are onstage.
The huge cast also helps set the historical tone of the ship’s maiden voyage. The class system, which was still very much in effect in the early 20th century, is easy to see, Miller-Smith said.
“It really shows the difference between the experience of the first, second and third class passengers,” Miller-Smith said, “And you get a really unique insight into the why a lot of those people were making the journey.”
The division of classes is the overarching theme that ties the story together and highlights the tragic aspect of the shipwreck. The sinking of the ship is presented not so much as a freak accident as it is the result of the upper class’ hubris, making it all the more tragic.
Titanic: The Musical is grounded in historical fact and thorough research. All the characters are based on real people, Miller-Smith said, and the cast became very engaged in who they were playing.
“We wanted to be as true as we could to the historical sequence of events,” Miller-Smith said. “We wanted to get some of those really interesting historical details right.”
While preparing for their roles, the cast took advantage of the wealth of information available with the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.
“There is a lot of stuff online that you can see that talks about the ship itself,” John Litster, who plays Captain E. J. Smith, said. “I wanted to get a sense of who he was.”
Litster said he also watched some of the many television specials that came out around the anniversary to get different perspectives on the story.
While there is little doubt that Titanic : The Musical is a pleasure to watch, it is just as much of a pleasure for the cast to perform it, Miller-Smith said.
“Orpheus is an amateur organization in the truest sense of the word,” she said, “which is people, highly skilled, highly talented people, who do what they do for the sheer love of doing it.”
Titanic: The Musical runs at Centrepointe Theatre until June 10.
—Photo provided by Alan Dean Photography