In his curtain speech on opening night, Slow Burn Theatre artistic director Patrick Fitzwater threw out a spoiler to the packed house in the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater.
Nobody should be surprised when the Titanic sinks at the end of the show. Instead, the big news to some was there would be no Leonardo DiCaprio or Kate Winslett characters, no big blue diamond and no syrupy songs about hearts going on.
Unlike James Cameron’s 1997 big screen epic retelling of the ill-fated British liner that sank on its maiden voyage with its compelling love story and intriguing below deck subplots, Peter Stone and Maury Yeston’s Tony Award-winning best musical, which also debuted in 1997, pretty much sticks to the cold, hard facts. And that’s what sank the show (relatively speaking).
Despite efforts by Stone to create a cast of noble characters, most were just not sympathetic:
Captain Smith, an obsequious 40-year White Star veteran on his final passage before retirement, succumbs to the pressures of Mr. Ismay, the ambitious managing director who compromised his passengers’ safety in pursuit of glory and greed. Ship architect Mr. Andrews seems incredulous to his massive creation’s flaws and shortcomings.
The first-class passengers are a “Who’s Who” list of the gilded age, including Macy’s department store owner Isidor Straus, wealthy businessman Benjamin Guggenheim and their wives. Even the third-class passengers are just a rabble of hopeful immigrants seeking better fortunes in America.
Barrett, a handsome young stoker, is the closest character to the film’s Jack Dawson character, but alas, he has a fiancé back home in Britain, so there are no steamy interests there, save for the ship’s massive boiler room.
Yeston’s score is tuneful and accessible, if not much more memorable than the thousands of passengers who were not allowed to fill more than 400 empty spaces on the lifeboats on the calm, cold April night in 1912. The standout is “Still,” sung by the devoted couple, Isador and Ida Strauss, who refused to be separated and would perish together.
Despite the structural flaws in the show, Slow Burn, as expected, delivers a flawless production, leaving the audience yearning for the happy ending that just never comes, like the rescue ship, California.
The cast of 20 rises to the occasion, covering more than 30 roles. Landon Summers (Barrett), the young stoker offers a reverberating tenor voice in addition to his chiseled looks. Matthew Korinko, a Slow Burn founder, again demonstrates incredible versatility, this time as the tortured architect Andrews who must confront both his shortcomings and those of his ship. Troy J. Stanley and Ann Marie Olson offer the signature musical moment in that duet by the Strauses, “Still,” and eliciting one of the few tears of the performance.
Director/choreographer Fitzwater keeps the action fast paced and pulls the most convincing performances possible from his eager cast, despite the inherent challenges in the script.
The actors are backed up by a capable six-piece orchestra led by Emmanuel Schvartzman that, in keeping with the period, featuring a sonorous string quartet (Anna Ventura, Pearl Fuentes, Stephanie Jaimes and Adriel Lyles).
Costuming the cast is as monumental a feat as building the largest moving object of the era. Rick Pena created hundreds of historically-accurate costumes, from crew uniforms to the finery worn by the elite passengers.
But the real star of the show is Sean McClelland’s set. The stage of the Amaturo Theater is convincingly transformed into the deck and compartments of the liner with a massive system of steel ladders and gangways, accentuated by Thomas M. Shorrock’s inventive lighting design and special effects.
No, there’s not going to be a surprise happy ending, but this production should not be missed, if just to witness the monumental effort by Slow Burn to illustrate one of the equally monumental events in modern history.
Slow Burn Theatre Co. presents “Titanic the Musical” at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale through Feb. 5. Tickets start at $47 at BrowardCenter.org.