Playbill Critics Circle: Your Views of Titanic

News   Playbill Critics Circle: Your Views of Titanic
Even after 85 years, the story of the sinking of the luxury liner Titanic has the power to fascinate. Maury Yeston (Nine, Grand Hotel ) and Peter Stone (1776, The Will Rogers Follies ) have brought the storytelling power of musical theatre to the saga, with the new show, Titanic, currently in previews for an April 23 opening on Broadway.

Even after 85 years, the story of the sinking of the luxury liner Titanic has the power to fascinate. Maury Yeston (Nine, Grand Hotel ) and Peter Stone (1776, The Will Rogers Follies ) have brought the storytelling power of musical theatre to the saga, with the new show, Titanic, currently in previews for an April 23 opening on Broadway.

If you have seen the show in previews, please let everyone know what the show looks, sounds and feels like. Be as specific and descriptive as possible. How well does the show express its themes? How well does it capture its milieu -- a cross-section of society confronted by disaster? How are the performances, the dancing, the design elements -- especially the innovative sets? How are the songs, and how do they compare to other Yeston works? Keep in mind that the show is currently in previews and you are the first people anywhere to see and write about this new show.

Write your comments -- long or short -- and e-mail them to Managing Editor Robert Viagas at Comments will be posted as they come in.

Please make sure to include your town and state, and please note whether you'd like us to include your full e-mail address so you can receive responses. This is optional, of course.

Here are the results so far: From William Coombes, New York, NY:
I saw "Titanic" for a third time last night (Friday, April 11th) after seeing the first preview and then a week after. What a difference! The show really has improved ten fold from that first night.
The first to go were the horrid "Tableau" set peices, with the exception of "The Collision" at the end of Act I which still utilizes the large scale model of the ship sailing into disaster. This effect works well, though. There are also massive song cuts and scene cuts beginning in the first act with the removal of scene 10 and thus the song "I Give You My Hand" between Charles and Caroline. This obviously was cut because the tableau "Clear Sailing" was cut and the scene change that was happening behind the drop couldn't happen anymore. This basically makes the characters of Caroline and Charles non-essential, but it tightens the first act nicely.
The second act has undergone vast changes with only the first four scenes seeming the same as the first previews. Again, the song "We'll Meet Tomorrow" sung by Charles has now been given to the company with Bride, the radio operator seeing a reprise of "The Night Was Alive." From then on out all the scenes following are completely different. "Behind Every Fortune" is gone, and the final scenes that take place in the portals of the sinking ship have been moved forward, moving the Straus's lovely duet "Still" to one of the last numbers. "Mr. Andrew's Vision" works very well now with the ship actually listing during the number with a piano and chairs falling down at him......very effective number. The ship then actually sinks. The incline grows as people struggle up to the top and then the star back drop behind them moves upward as a black drop rises from the floor infront of the "ship" giving the illusion of sinking. The closing scene on the "Carpathia" with the ship's survivors is the same, but now the "Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution" scene is gone, as is the final tableau "The Discovery." The cast simply sings "In Every Age (reprise)" and then a reprise of the opening number "Godspeed Titanic," which still is not quite the perfect ending, but with the appropriate song could be.
All in all the show has improved much and seems to be headed in the right direction. The score is the best of any of the new works I have seen, and the cast is superb. Maybe now this production won't "sink." (4/13/97)


From Girode:
Though not as disastrous as everyone had stated, Titanic is not likely to survive the icy reception it might receive from the critics. On the preview I saw on April 8th, it appears that the creative team has worked out many of the flaws previously reported. In example, the “toy boat“ sequence that ends Act One with the thunderous crash that was greeted with laughter from audiences in earlier previews actually received an enthusiastic applause (though bits of laughter could still be heard for those who were listening for it). Still, from beginning to end, I found myself saying "What were they thinking?" The story of the Titanic is as huge as the infamous ocean liner and really it has no place on the stage, let alone in musical format. Each person who sailed on the Titanic had enough of a story to fill their own two-hour musical. Instead each story is squished into two and some odd hours of twenty stories and everyone gets lost in the shuffle.
It appears that the creative team felt they had to offer this story on a grand scale and they hired plenty of cast members to accommodate. The ensemble numbers (each and every ensemble number) were intended to be larger than life and they definitely made use of the numerous voices. However, each number ended with one of those "Isn't is great how we can belt right here, all together, in perfect unison." Sometimes less is better and by the fifth or the sixth staggering belt, I was aching for subtlety. The overabundance of characters also backfires incredibly when at the end, one could care less about any of them by the time they meet their fate. Even the most beautiful of stories in its true form, that of the plight of Isador and Ida Straus, is a complete drag here.
Mr. Yeston's music is not all that memorable with a few exceptions. I did enjoy “The Blame“ where J. Bruce Ismay, Thomas Andrews and Captain E. J. Smith all argue about who‘s at fault for the disaster. Don Stephenson (as Charles Clarke) tries desperately to offer a show stopping “We‘ll Meet Tomorrow“ (again with a belt overkill) and though momentarily poignant, it‘s defenseless against the ridiculous backdrop. And that is the case with most of the songs, they just don‘t mesh with their intended moment and compassion for the characters is completely destroyed. Horrible to say, but I thought to myself at one particular moment, wouldn‘t the song “Wet“ from “Steel Pier” be more appropriate right here? This disappointing array of musical pieces came from the same composer who enraptured me with the beautiful “You Are Music“ and “Love Can‘t Happen“ - and it was a painful to see his talent wasted on this. The cast worked very hard against the yawn fest this musical inspires and by the time they bowed, they looked drained and unenthusiastic as did the audience.
The bottom line is this production was sloppily put together in a very short period of time and it shows. The staging is devastatingly boring and the technical wizardry one might expect is simply not there. In fact, the only clever moment, in my opinion, is with “The Staircase“ where passengers offer a scene from a different point of view, and that moment does not even rely on any hydrogliphics. More of that kind of staging would have been welcome. What makes me so frustrated is that this show deserves much more work than it‘s getting. The producers made poor decisions with this production and the first and foremost is its crying for an out-of-town tryout. With their haste to get it on stage before the Tony deadline, they have made a big mistake and it will reflect when they are most likely not recognized by the Tony committee. My immediate reaction is to close it down as soon as possible, perhaps before opening. Spend the spring and summer months at La Jolla or Old Globe, offer it to Broadway next season and give it half a chance to survive. (4/10/97)


From Acl1:
I was one of the unfortunate members of the audience, in the soon-to-be-vacant Lunt Fontanne Theater, on March 31 for the first complete performance of Titanic. To say this musical is bad is unfair to other bad musicals.
Its a bad idea that gets worse and that's all there is to it. The score is dull, the book is boring and the characters are so one dimensional you wish they would all drown fast ! The set, is massive, ugly, overly mechanical and doesn‘t seem to serve the piece at all. I would much rather have seen no hydraulics, just a good musical. The direction by Richard Jones is uninspired and lifeless. Its hard to believe Maury Yeston and Peter Stone created this bomb.
Some of the cast, Michael Ceveris, Victoria Clark and especially Brian d‘Arcy Jones try hard but to no avail. Also lost in this mess are Judy Blazer, Alma Cuervo, David Garrison, Joseph Kolinski and many other talented and soon to be unemployed actors. It should be noted that the production is not in previews but in rehearsal. It is being rewritten daily and some of the music is without orchestrations, piano only. The top price however, is still $65
I spotted one of the producers in the audience during intermission and was tempted to ask him if he had read the book or listened to the score before deciding to produce the show. (4/10/97)


From Faith L. Burwasser:
After having seen the first preview of Titanic and having talked to friends who have seen subsequent previews, I've ome to this conclusion- the show was rushed onto B'way well before it was ready. (when has anyone ever seen a show start performing on B'way without having complete orchestrations?) Which is a shame, because I don't think they have enough time left to do the amount of changes that the show requires. From what people have written, one might expect that the show was a complete waste. However, I found that there were some elements of promise, but that it just wasn't fully complete (the show was like what I'd imagine a pre-B'way workshop to be- except with bigger sets).
The changes that I think would be needed to make the show better include stremaling the plot. It's commendable that the creators tried to show the diversity of the passengers on board, but there quite simply are way too many characters to be able to develop any of them well, or for the audience to care very much about them. I'd suggest concentrating more deeply on just a few (maybe Ismay, Andrews, Barrette, Ida and Isador Strauss, Kate McGowen- and the Beanes for comic relief). As much as I like Judith Blazer, her storyline could be cut, with no great loss to the show. Some of the other characters could be kept, but as secondary figures.
Also- they could do without the discovery scene tacked on at the end- a real finale, somehow tying things together, would work better. The show right now seems to be designed so that the ship itself is the star. Especially because of the technical problems it has suffered , this is not a wise decision. The much hyped ship effects seem to be more funny than exciting. Musicals need to be about people, and only use scenery/props as a supplement to telling the story.
But, on the positive side, there were things I liked about the show. I liked how the audience had an added perspective of knowing the outcome- which made the show have a tragic feel. The opening had the proper sense of excitement (and I, as an audience member, found it bittersweet since I knew how it would turn out). And I found it interesting to see all the little decisions that led up to the tragedy. Another good approach was to show how differently people reacted in the face of tragedy- some of the characters became truly heroic (though this would be appreciated even more if there were more developed characters, as suggested above). In short, I liked the tone of the piece and the angle used to tell the story. Some of the music was also very good, though not the most memorable).
I wish there was a feasible way of putting another year (or even a few months) of work into the show. Sadly, that doesn't appear to be the case. Hopefully, the lesson learned from this show will be not to rush a show to Broadway in order to meet an artificial deadline (such as this yr's Tonys, or when a certain theatre is available, etc). Ironically, the story of the Titanic itself suggests that man shouldn't be overconfident about his creations, and he should take time to nurture them properly- but the creators of the musical must not have paid attention. (4/9/97)


From Jim Floyd ( Chicago, IL:
I went to see 'Titanic' at the Lunt-Fontanne on the very first night of previews--which happened to be Saturday night because on Thursday and Friday they couldn't get the boat to sink. well, it didn't sink on saturday either so I think that this might be the first telling of the doomed ocean liner that actually changes history! It was fascinating to watch, mainly because I had never experienced a preview before and figured that it would be interesting to see how they'd do the story of the sinking of the Titanic as a musical.
The director, Richard Jones, came out before the show started and informed us that this was the first preview and the first run-thru and that a lot of the set was being worked on as we spoke, that some of the costumes he would be seeing for the first time with us, and several musical numbers were only just rehearsed the evening before--in fact, he said that some of the orchestrations weren't even complete so there would only be piano accompaniment for some numbers. Basically, it was going to be very rough. The only major drawback for such an experience is that we paid 65 bucks to see an unfinished'd think they'd be cheaper to see something that stops and starts before your eyes.
I really liked the music although there weren't really any memorable tunes that I can think of except for the guy in the lookout singing 'Sailing, Sailing' over and over. The opening number I thought was well staged and actually interesting. It was the introduction of the seventeen thousand characters--I'm not kidding, there are a lot of people to remember in this thing, I counted 42 name characters in the program. But there are some standouts. I particularly enjoyed Victoria Clark as Alice Beane, a second class passenger longing to rub elbows with the first classers and David Garrison as J. Bruce Ismay, the owner of the ocean liner whose constant demands to go faster without any heed to safety ultimately results in the tragedy. Jennifer Piech, Theresa McCarthy and Erin Hill are very good as three third class Irish passengers all named Kate and Clarke Thorell is another third class Irishman whom Piech(Kate #1) falls for is very good. There are a lot of good moments, there should probably be more, but I think once it works its kinks out it shouldn't do too badly. There are a couple memorable spots, the duet between Isador and Ida Strauss; the accusation song between Capt. E.J. Smith (John Cunningham), the architect Thomas Andrews (a bald Michael Cerveris)--both of whom are very good as well, and Ismay about who is ultimately to blame for the disaster and a great moment in the second act when the passengers are assembled in the Grand salon and all are singing about how ridiculous it is to be awakened so late when there's nothing to worry about and a lone serving tray goes rolling across the floor by itself, indicating the tilting of the ship. It is a great moment.
The sets are interesting, especially because not only are they stationary in Act One but in Act Two have to be tilted to accomodate the sinking. The scene changes took longer than usual and I walked out of there approxinamtely three and a half hours later. By the time I'm writing this, I'm sure that bugs have been worked out and hopefully, the ship is sinking. The play does end rather abruptly, just music that plinks out and silence. No one had any idea of whether or not the show was over.
Well, all of this is just one person's opinion. I think that some of the characters should be dropped--and I couldn't believe that Molly Brown wasn't even mentioned. One would think that one of the most famous people to come off the Titanic would be mentioned. But with so many characters, you really didn't get much of a chance to get to know any of them, let alone care for them. They'd have a song and disappear for eight scenes. An example of this is Barrett, the ships stokesman. He has a huge song in Scene Four then disappears until scene 11 and I don't remember him in Act Two at all...of course, everything was chaos then so maybe I wasn't supposed to know who was around.
I think there's a lot of promise there but I think Peter Stone (book) and Maury Yeston (music/lyrics) wanted to cover too much territory. Where it might have worked in 1776, I don't think it works here. (4/2/97)


From DocLuv6104:
I had the great misfortune of seeing the TITANIC on Monday night. Technical difficulties aside, the show lacks anything that will make it a hit. First off, the cast is wondeful but is obviously not liking the show that they are in, so even a Michael Cerveris and a Judy (sorry - JUDITH, now..) Blazer manage to look foolish. The only standouts of the cast are Brian d'Arcy James (as the Stoker), Victoria Clark (as Alice Beane, the star-struck middle-class gossip-monger), and Jennifer Piech (as one of the 3 Irish Kate's in 3rd class), who manage to create some purpose to the existance of their characters.
The music is functional, but nothing special. When the Radioman (Martin Moran) sings a beautiful ballad, one might tend to enjoy it, except for the fact that he is singing about how his life revolves around the telegraph, a topic one can find no sympathy for (the song literally goes "dit-dit-da-dit-da-dit" to imitate the telegraph..) The Opening sequence lasts about 20 minutes, is very messy, and is full of a lot of dead air.
Dramatically, I find this a difficult premise to create a musical on. The musical spends too much time on technical aspects (there are about 6-12 scenes that are purely technical, as in knots, latitude, longitude, degrees, etc...) and less time developing characters. One does not care about the characters enough because one does not know the characters well enough. When it comes time to decide who gets to go into the life boats, the preview audience found itself laughing rather than caring about the seperation of certain loved ones on the ship.
The biggest flaw perhaps of the show, is its set. If you have seen Sunset, imagine the montage sequence of the chase, where there are little windows in a big cardboard screen. That is the Titanic set. If you haven't seen Sunset, imagine Hollywood Squares. As the ship sinks, the ground of each square (or rectangle rather) gets more and more slanted. Poor Michael Cerveris had a difficult enough time standing in his big 2nd act solo ("In Every Age") let alone trying to look convincing as the character. The closing of Act I was very messy, with three levels of dramatic action plus a lookout tower that is lowered from up above and partially obstructs the view of the 3 levels.
Then, there are the infamous toys. The toys that drew an incredible amount of laughter from the audience (which i do not believe was the intention). There are toy ships that periodically sail across the stage or the curtain, while the orchestra plays. They serve no dramatic purpose at all, except for allowing patrons of "It's A Small World" at Magic Kingdom reminesce.. At the end of the show, we zoom into present day and a scientist (played again by Cerveris) tells us about his exploration of the wreck. He picks up a hand sized replica of the exploration vessicle and displays it proudly. But for those audience members that could not quite see it, we have a bigger version (about 2 feet long i presume) that comes down on a wire from the top of the stage and shines a light on a cheesy toy replica of a broken ship. And that is how the show ends. Thus the audience was made fully aware of the sinking of the ship (the screaming and 45 degree platforms weren't enough I guess), but in my opinion, the audience was too preoccupied by the sinking of the show to give a hoot. (4/7/97)


I saw the second night preview of Titanic. What a mess!!! The hydraulic sets worked almost but the main problem with the show is a weak score and story. A collection of stories taking place on stage at the same time only connected that they were all on the same ship lacks intrigue or any caring of the characteurs. Bad small scale models where used for the ship, when Broadway has given audiences the thrill of a helicopter in Miss Saigon or the french opera house in Phantom are we to be believe a model being pulled across the stage , in the wrong direction!!!! The costumesand sets where very road show quality, (painted backdrops of chandeliers) comic relief was supplied by Victoria Clark but seemed misguided in direction and placement in the show. The score had one good song in the second act called "Still" but songs called "Dressed in your Pyjamas in the Grand Salon" do not make a memorable show. The entire audience laughed in act one as a scale model of the ship was moving diagonally across a silver lame moon! I also saw Steel Pier and Jekyll & Hyde on the same trip I couldnt belive this is the same Broadway that gave me RENT and CHICAGO. (4/6/97)


From M.E.B. ( Hawthorne, NJ:
I was one of the lucky (If you can call it that) theatre goers that attended the first preview of "Titanic" Being a huge Titanic fan and having loved the musical "Grand Hotel" I was very excited to see this musical. If it would be anything like a floating "Grand Hotel" It would be a smash. I sat in the last row in the rear mezzanine and Maury Yeston was pacing in the aisle behind me.
The house was a near sell out due to the cancelation of 3 performances. The show started with a speech by the director Richard Jones reminding us that this is the first preview and the first time the whole show was done in one evening. He said that one leads just learned a new song in the lobby 30 minutes ago, some of the orchestrations are not done so there will only be piano accompaniment. He will also be seeing some of the costumes for the first time along with us. Lastly he reassured us that we will not get wet, and the show began.
The first half an hour was terrific! Sent chills down my spine....then it came time to change the scenery. The show stopped dead! A piano would play for a minute which seemed like an eternity and then just silence. . .Finally the curtain would come up to polite applause and the show would continue. This happened no less then 5 times! Sometimes the stage manager would interrupt and ask the actors to leave the stage & we would sit there in silence for a minute before the cast was ushered onto the stage to resume. Often we could hear and see the stagehands changing the scenery! What a night! We got out at 11:15.
As far as the music and plot goes. The first act is fine but the second act is a mess. All the performers were good with the exception of Becky Ann Baker who plays Carlotte Cardoza playing a pale imitation of Molly Brown (a fault of the book). The book was funny in places in spite of the tragedy but the second act lacked the tension and urgency it deserves. The poor cast was cheated out of a curtain call do to an anti climatic musical interlude just before the bows. The audience expected another scene. The show needs to be re worked and a new song written for the last scene. I will be interested in seeing the show after it opens. Not unlike the real "Titanic," this musical was killed by it's technical problems. (4/1/97)


From Michael Chase:
We just saw Titanic this evening which was the first performance to the public (from what I understand). How does a show laden with so many problems, dig it self out of this hole it has created? The scenery, costumes, and cast were all very good. Some of the songs and tangents in the story line were absolutely ridiculuous.
It's beginning to look that this serious maritime tragedy is going to be turned into a Broadway tragedy if they can't fix their innumerable problems.
Do shows in previews go through drastic rewrites allowing them to become comercially successful? Please name a few. I am curious.
Do you see any Tony nominations for a show like this (such as costumes or set)? There were some very positive features of this show. (3/30/97)

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