Titanic: A New Musical | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Titanic: A New Musical 

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TITANIC: A NEW MUSICAL, Civic Opera House. The ocean liner Titanic may lie miles beneath the Atlantic, but its banal Broadway namesake is now floundering in the shallows. Whatever impact the New York production might have--a tiered set representing multiple decks reflects the stratified class structure of the ship and its time--is lost in this pared-down touring edition, which fails to deliver either large-scale spectacle or the inventive storybook visuals of the far superior Ragtime, which also explores class conflict and the immigrant experience.

Stewart Laing's attractive but unexceptional set and costumes and the efforts of a strong-voiced but uncharismatic cast can't disguise the thinness of the material. Peter Stone's bland script relies on that hackneyed disaster-movie formula, the cross section of humanity. But the undeveloped, one-dimensional characters--arrogant owner, duty-driven captain, snooty steward, scatterbrained social climber, lovestruck ingenues, faithful elderly couple--fail to elicit our concern, especially since we know their fates well in advance. Maury Yeston's proficient but forgettable score borrows from the historically appropriate but musically tedious likes of Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams, coming alive only in an anomalous ragtime dance number--one of the few sequences to depart from British opera director Richard Jones's stand-still-and-sing staging style.

As for special effects, audiences anticipating anything like The Phantom of the Opera's chandelier or Miss Saigon's helicopter will have to settle for a toy boat crashing into an offstage iceberg; even the sound effect is unconvincing. This touring Titanic is dead in the water.

--Albert Williams


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