SANDY– The Hale Centre Theatre has turned their Young Living arena theatre into an enormous ship, but you wouldn’t know it while waiting for the show to begin. The stage was empty but for some lighting to show the Titanic’s blueprints. This musical, written by Peter Stone with music by Maury Yeston, is a beautiful masterpiece and historical tragedy. I loved how the Hale gave me a ticket when I entered containing information about one of the passenger’s history and their fate aboard the Titanic. Dave Tinney, director, also wrote a detailed history in the program of the Titanic. This pre-show information was not only helpful but made the musical all the more interesting.
Stone begins with the ship’s designer describing his work, Thomas Andrews. Once on the ship, the grandeur of the upper class is displayed for many songs and scenes. As a few lines point to pride and determination to be the best above all other ships as the captain and funder’s main aims, important messages get ignored and the stage is set for calamity. Once again Stone has Andrews in the limelight for the climax and ship’s sinking. The writing of the aftermath was so tragic, I couldn’t help crying, Stone wrote it so well. Yeston’s music was full of emotion and solemn. I loved how it didn’t take away from the telling, but was almost like a eulogy to all the passengers. In the story, we didn’t get to hear too much about any one passenger, but that helped to make the overall feel of this musical become like a tribute, especially with music sounding closer to opera and hymns than the brassy Broadway style.
The set, the set, the set! I’m still awed by Hale’s ability to create amazing and elaborate sets, and this one floored me. Kacey Udy was the Scenic Designer, and with Hale’s many machines moving in the background, this beautiful structure involving decks, railings, lamps, and posts, was able to rise to glorious levels, break apart and have smaller parts moving independently, form different shapes, turn on it’s axis, and some enormous pieces (like the bridge) even come flying down from above. Not only that, but it was all hidden under the stage and up in the rafters before the show started, so I didn’t know it existed until the stage floor opened! Now I know why the building is so big on the outside. Everything looked authentic to a ship and even seemed to be real steel and welded into place the way it would have been on the Titanic. After the sinking, the lighting (Jaron Hermansen) showed waves washing over the entire audience as if we were all in the the water which made it all feel even more astounding.
The set was perfect for David Tinney to make the performers shine no matter where they were on the stage. Despite floating set pieces partially in the way, I was always able to see the action and only once could I not tell who was speaking, which, for a set as elaborate as this and with such an enormous cast, was a feat! I appreciated all the blocking, which made full use of the stage, it’s many levels and large central platform. I loved how during the dinner scene when time passes Tinney had the most vocal character moving seats for different nights, each seat giving a new section of the audience a great view of him and his long-winded storytelling. I also loved how Tinney used a small section of the deck and stairwell as a lifeboat, with the way he organized many people sitting on it. The only concern I had was about the fall hazards. Some set pieces were so high up from the piece below them that I was scared for a few actor’s lives as their blocking brought them dangerously close to, and sometimes backing up toward, the edge of a ledge!
The show was well cast, and I thoroughly enjoyed Kelton Davis‘ performance as Thomas Andrews, designer of the Titanic. He began the show singing solo about creating the ship, and later had another solo at the climax of the show as the ship sank. His emotional excited passion in the beginning equally matched his emotional fear and self-blame as the ship went down, and was a powerful way to book-end the story, and a great choice on Stone and Yeston’s part.
The music was so well performed, and Kelly DeHaan, the music director, did a fantastic job. The men singing together at the beginning was so impressive, with a large group articulating so well they sounded like one person! I especially enjoyed when Davis, Quinn Dietlein (playing J. Bruce Ismay), and Ric Starnes (playing Captain Smith) sang a bass trio. What melodious voices!
Dietlein was especially good at his irritating character, and this musical almost puts the entire blame for the Titanic sinking on him, which he pulled off so well. His attitude was always of looking good and manipulating others to his desires, making those off-hand remarks in such a natural way that I really hated the character by the end. Starnes made an excellent ship’s Captain, and looked and sounded the part. In fact, after seeing the show I browsed the historic items the Hale put on display in the lobby and the actual picture of Captain E.J. Smith looks just like Starnes in the show. Nice work, Dennis Wright (costumes) and Krissa Lent (hair and makeup).
The show wasn’t boring by any means, but it felt kind of slow, which I think was due to the way it was written and organized to be more like a tribute than a riveting tale. There was no Rose and Jack, no piles of people falling from great heights into great depths, no desperate struggles to survive the freezing waters. Just a dramatized tale of what led up to the sinking of the Titanic, and the regretful aftermath. It was beautiful, and it was painful. Most of all, it was powerful.
I am grateful the Hale Centre Theatre chose this production, and am grateful for all the hard work they put in to make it as historically instructive as possible. The set and the mechanisms to move things around and almost make a dance out of the different parts left me in awe. I love what they can do in this theatre space. This is definitely a show you need to see. Don’t think about it. Just go. And pro tip: use the upstairs bathrooms during intermission, you won’t regret it.