(Cover Photo: Ben Gold, Paul Spanagal, Mark Estano in Concard Players production of "Titanic the Musical" now playing in Concord, MA. through May 14, 2022. Photo by Andrea Roessler)
By Kevin T. Baldwin
"Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee "
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Concord Players, presents an unsinkable ensemble cast in “Titanic – the Musical” one of the finest stagings this reviewer has seen in a very long time.
For Concord's production, under the direction of Douglas Hodge, there is more of a "black box" feel to the musical but it did not diminish the scope of the show in the slightest.
It cannot be understated how critical the multimedia projections were to the success of the show.
One caveat to the above: IF the system in use had "hiccupped"...even once (even for one quick "blue screen of death")...the fantasy of being immersed in the world we are observing for the two and a half hour production would have been...well...'sunk.'
Thankfully, the system worked flawlessly
When “Titanic –the Musical” opened in 1997, it opened virtually around the same time as the juggernaut movie “Titanic” with Leonardo DiCaprio, featuring one of the most overplayed songs of radio that year, “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion.
As such, the stage musical, featuring a captivating book by Peter Stone (who also wrote the book for the musical "1776") and score by Maury Yeston, was virtually ignored, running for 804 performances and ultimately taking a financial hit when it closed.
Fortunately, the musical was not ignored by the Tony Awards, winning in all five categories for which it was nominated, including Best Musical and Best Score.
As the show went on tour, though, many audiences went in literally expecting a musical interpretation of the movie. Without the “Jack and Rose” subplot driving the score, many walked away disappointed. I saw this first hand when the musical 'docked' briefly in Boston while on tour.
Audiences who had NO such misconceptions nor unrealistic expectations, going into the experience with an open mind, walked away having been engaged by epic staging, a strong score and even stronger vocal performances.
That is also what happened during this latest staging by Concord Players. Many not only left entertained, they gave a standing ovation worthy of such a cast and creative team which should all be commended.
(Photo: Caroline Granahan as "Madeleine Astor," Brad Puffer as "John Jacob Astor" and Lonnie Powell as "Captain E.J. Smith" in Concard Players production of "Titanic the Musical" now playing in Concord, MA. through May 14, 2022. Photo by Andrea Roessler)
The musical production is a sweeping epic with multiple subplots all set on doomed ocean liner RMS Titanic (ironically referred to as “unsinkable”) which sank on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912. Before boarding the ship, the cast refers to the massive vessel as the “ship of dreams.”
Concord’s multi-media presentation uses combined projected images of the boat and associated ephemera, minimal set pieces, as opposed to fully constructed sets.
It also features an exceptional ensemble which has the unenviable task of portraying multiple roles requiring split second costume changes.
It is the precise combination of these period-appropriate costumes and props, specialty lighting and a well utilized fly system which created the near perfect illusion that we are aboard the doomed ship with its unfortunate passengers on their voyage into the history books.
The entire creative team deserves high praise, indeed.
(Photo: Ben Gold, Paul Spanagal, Mark Estano in Concard Players production of "Titanic the Musical" now playing in Concord, MA. through May 14, 2022. Photo by Andrea Roessler)
Who was to blame for the actual Titanic tragedy?
Well, certainly, there was plenty of blame to go around as evidenced in the musical number “The Blame,” performed by arguing ship’s Captain "Edward J. Smith" (Lonnie Powell), cruise line chairman "J. Bruce Ismay" (Athan Mantalos) and ship’s designer and builder "Thomas Andrews" (Brian Vaughn Martel).
Overall, there are many wonderful moments in the production, making it difficult to single out individual performers from the impressive ensemble.
Both the musical's Prologue and Finale renditions of “Godspeed, Titanic” stir as the voices, under the guidance of Music Director Ben Oehlkers, splendidly blend. It is hard to recall listening to an ensemble this strong that their combined strength literally cause goosebumps as they perform.
“Lady’s Maid” is another powerhouse number, sung by the immigrants in the below decks third class of Titanic, revealing their dreams of a better life in the new world, led by the “Three Kates” (Aiden O'Neal, Agatha Oehlkers and Jamie Cook).
The one actual dance number in the show, “Doing the Latest Rag” sung by the ensemble portraying the upper deck first class passengers, is probably the only number in the musical which seems 'out of step' with the rest of the show and has always felt like a bit of forced levity.
The first class were passengers who, we later find out, had the easiest access to the minimal life boats put on Titanic which resulted in the high number of deaths after (spoiler alert) the ship hit an iceberg and sank.
A critical moment in Yeston's score that has never really worked dramatically, is at the end of Act One and the point where (spoiler alert, same as the first) Titanic hits the ice berg.
There is NO visual or audible recognition of any kind for the event. The music simply builds to a crescendo and then...nothing...as the stage goes to a slow blackout. The audience is left to assume the event has taken place only by looking at the stunned expressions by the actors on stage at the end of Act One.
However, director Hodge and Projection Designer Amanda Fulda overcame this obstacle thanks to the clever usage of the projections.
The moving number, “The Proposal/The Night Was Alive,” sung by Titanic wireless operator, "Bride" (Mark Estano) and ship's stoker "Frederick Barrett" (Paul Spanagal) is another emotionally charged highlight in an evening of musical highlights. Spanagal is equally gripping in his earlier solo, appropriately titled, "Barrett's Song."
The song, "No Moon," leading to the Act One finale, is both haunting and foreboding thanks to the ensemble and the fine vocal styling of Ben Gold who portrays crewman lookout "Fleet."
In the absence of a “Jack and Rose,” audiences might find themselves drawn to touching stories of other couples, such as the charming, long married couple Ida and Isador Straus (Frank Hildebrand and Amy Harris) in their moving duet “Still.”
Finally, the Concord Players orchestra was equally impressive never once overwhelming the ensemble.
Bravo to the entire cast and crew of Concord Players on a truly accomplished production featuring a phenomenal vocal ensemble. This is a show that absolutely should not be missed.
Approximately 2 hours, 30 minutes including intermission.
Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)
ABOUT THE SHOW
RMS Titanic sets sail on its maiden voyage across the North Atlantic.
This "unsinkable" ship of dreams, carrying more than 2,200 souls, is on a collision course with destiny.
From the boiler room workers to the ship's captain…from the poorest of passengers in steerage to the wealthiest in first class, TITANIC examines the hopes and dreams of those aboard the doomed luxury liner in the nights leading up to its fatal encounter with an iceberg.
In order to provide a safe environment for all to enjoy your theater experience, we are now requiring masks and proof of vaccination (along with a valid photo id) for all indoor performances.
ABOUT THE CONCORD PLAYERS
The Players are proud of their continuous record of presenting quality theatre to the citizens of Concord and the surrounding communities. Three major productions are mounted each season. In addition, one-acts, such as the annual entry into the Eastern Mass Assn of Community Theatres (EMACT) Spring Festival, are frequently presented. Workshops in acting, directing, and technical theatre are also offered to the membership.
The purpose of our organization is to produce and perform quality theatre for the citizens of Concord and the surrounding communities. We encourage the participation of people with an interest in technical theatre, as well as in performing.