REVIEW: Titanic the Musical – a show where the spirit of love proves unsinkable
Titanic the Musical sails into Birmingham in a spectacular and epic production featuring a colossal cast.
The lavishly detailed musical set on an ocean liner is currently playing at The Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 22 April.
The musical originally opened on Broadway in 1997 with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and a book by Peter Stone.
Going into the performance without any background to the show one would immediately think Titanic the Musical is a stage adaptation of James Cameron’s record-breaking Hollywood film which scooped up a multitude of Oscars and billions of dollars and immortalized Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet who starred as the doomed lovers, Jack and Rose.
There’s no Jack or Rose in Titanic the Musical, nor is the iconic song My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion heard or sung anywhere in this show.
Nor are there any submarines searching for the wreck of the Titanic in search of the fictional Heart of the Ocean necklace which formed the prologue and epilogue of the glossy Hollywood film.
One of the hospitable and knowledgeable staff at The Birmingham Hippodrome – Mark Brooks – not only gave a warm reception on press night but also generously provided some background information about the show. Brooks explained that the stage show – which premiered in the year as the famous Hollywood film – does not feature the two fictional lovers from the movie.
The stage musical focuses on the individual hopes and dreams of the passengers, some of them villains and others heroes, and provides powerful and poignant contrast between the immaculately uniformed officers on deck and the grimy engineering crew who are sweltering in hellish conditions below decks, and the show also highlights passengers from different social and class divides whose lives collide in unexpected and momentous ways when the ship tragically sinks into an ice cold ocean.
The musical fittingly gives voice to the poor working-class passengers who are travelling to a new country in search of a better life which hauntingly resonates with the tragic and painful plight of migrants and refugees from the modern era.
This show very wisely avoids turning the material into a jukebox musical experience which would have been unpalatable and in poor taste considering the horrific loss of human life on that fateful night on April 15 1912 when RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean and around 1,500 people perished on their journey from Southampton to New York.
The musical opts to do away with jaunty tunes and instead employs music that strikes the heart and mind. The song and dance numbers – whether solo or chorus – strive to tell the stories and dreams of people on a life-changing journey to a new world. The music, which is delicately balanced between dramatic and soulful, evokes the emotions, hopes and fears of the passengers.
The musical landscape of the show veers away from employing overtly sentimental notes which makes the stories of the passengers more raw and embedded in a gritty reality.
The vast cast and crew of this truly epic production give sterling performances. The ensemble work is beautiful and very moving, and everyone in the art department should be applauded for their incredible work in making the audience believe that the hull of the gargantuan Titanic is right up there on the famed vast stage of The Birmingham Hippodrome.
The detail in the costume design is so authentic and coordinated that the audience immediately knows what class of passenger is on stage at any given moment.
The ship’s crew members are all decked out in black coats with sparkling brass buttons and peaked caps, while the first-class passengers seem to have stepped out of a drawing room at Buckingham Palace.
The production made clever use of sound and lighting to recreate the traumatic climax as the ship flounders and the passengers are literally swept off the stage and into the auditorium which made the show very interactive in a spellbinding and psychologically eerie manner.
The sight of a female passenger of the Titanic cradling a baby to her chest and singing while standing between the aisles meant that any artificial, spatial, invisible or psychological barriers between performer and audience were removed. This was theatre as dynamic art where the distance between stage and audience vanishes.
There is no comfortable safety net here. The show demands attention, and it delivers a plethora of emotions as the drama comes to a tragic conclusion. However, despite the darkness and the loss, the spirit of love lights the way to a new dawn.
There was a moment near the climax of the show – when a ship crew member commits suicide by shooting himself – which caused some members of the audience to erupt with laughter and loud giggles.
This heartless and juvenile reaction was not only a disturbing reflection of the current state of the world, which has seen people become desensitised to violence and death, but it also showed a lack of respect for the performers on stage who had worked incredibly hard to deliver what was a truly memorable and captivating night at the theatre.
Titanic the Musical is an exhilarating combination of drama, music, dance, history and a celebration of the power of the human spirit to rise up when everything in the world seems to be sinking into a cold abyss of darkness and paranoia.
VERDICT: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Titanic the Musical is running at The Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 22 April