Titanic is quite a grand and ambitious undertaking for a musical, and some unfamiliar sceptics might see the title and expect a disaster as colossal as the ship on which it’s based. But Titanic the musical has a reputation of three Tony Awards (Musical, Book and Score) that precedes it, and is now recreated in a new chamber version. With a spectacular cast and Maury Yeston’s beautiful score, the story of the Titanic’s tragic fate makes for a magnificent musical on the Southwark Playhouse stage.
Those unfamiliar with the musical will either be disappointed or relieved to find out that Jack and Rose are not aboard this ship. Instead, there are numerous compelling and heartbreaking love stories at the musical’s core, all loyal to true stories of real passengers. They are poor immigrants, middle class travellers and rich socialites, all with different dreams and expectations for the voyage ahead, captured thoroughly in Peter Stone’s book. Titanic is a true ensemble piece, offering many captivating views into the lives of travellers, employees, and the ship’s owner, designer and captains.
In this top-notch production directed by Thom Southerland, every scene and song shines with swelling sincerity. While the story of the Titanic is one of the most dramatic historical tragedies, the musical never feels like melodrama; each character comes across as fully human with relatable hopes, flaws and fears, which makes the events even more harrowing as they unfold. The entire cast is deserving of high praise, both for their versatile and understated acting performances and for the unbelievably gorgeous sounds they produce as an ensemble. The musical staging by Cressida Carré makes great use of David Woodhead’s multi-level set, and while the individual storylines are moving, the show thrives most in its large ensemble numbers. The opening is particularly memorable, as is the haunting ‘No Moon’ leading up to the fateful collision at the end of Act One.
Among the stellar cast, James Austen-Murray delivers a powerful ‘Barret’s Song’ as one of the ship’s miners, and Celia Graham is scene-stealing as first class wannabe Alice Beane. Simon Green, Greg Castiglioni and Philip Rham are terrific as the ship’s owner, designer and captain, and witnessing their errors in judgment and their different ways of coping with responsibility is one of the most effective storylines.
The high-quality production values and amazingly talented cast create a truly emotional whirlwind of a night (really obvious spoiler alert: the ship sinks, so it’s not exactly a happy ending). London audiences will no doubt be moved by the musical’s retelling of the timeless tragedy, and the vocal performances are guaranteed to be some of the best heard all year.
Titanic is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 31 August. For more information and tickets, see the Southwark Playhouse website.