Irving — Hearing the score of Titanic played with full orchestration makes the argument for using all the intended musicians—as is Lyric Stage’s mission—as obvious as arguing for using all the intended feathers in your pillow. With all that lush fullness enveloping your head, who would argue for less?
The better to beckon dreams.
And what dreams come as Jay Dias orchestrates those feathers in a score by Maury Yeston that combines, at times, water’s soft rippling caress with it’s sharp final crash. The smooth passage between them bears the mark of a sure hand. Credited for music direction, conducting and scene work, it’s clear who’s manning this ship. Though Margaret Hayden is responsible for recreating Drew Scott Harris’ original staging, the jewel of this show is Dias’ careful mix of voices, solo and choral, with the sumptuous tension building undulations of the full orchestra.
It’s pinch-yourself good.
Titanic is staged on Phil Hickox’s spare scaffolding set with a simplicity reverent enough to be performed on the graves of the 1500 lost souls. Many of the numbers contain a stage picture of the ensemble arrayed in standing rows. It’s frequently reminiscent of a graveyard and contains the same rigid power. How else to make sense of the enormity of the calamity? From the opening number when they get their first sight of the ship to the ending farewell tableau, it’s hard to improve on the simple formality of humans grappling with something so much greater than them, whether it’s their passage across the sea or the passage beyond.
This isn’t to say the show is remote. Beyond Titanic’s inherent Icarus image of man’s mechanical hubris, the writer, Peter Stone, wisely ties us to as many of the individual passenger stories as possible. To that end, Mary Gilbreath Grim plays Alice Beane, the celebrity-gawking second-class passenger who squeals the details of the well-to-do to her hardware-selling, Indiana husband, Edgar Beane (the equally entertaining Mark Oristano). Grim turns the task of exposition into a needed occasion for levity and sets up future fun as she tries to infiltrate the upper echelons only to be thwarted by the grinning and graceful Randy Pearlman playing the First Class Steward.
Names like Gugenheim and Astor litter the fancy dinner draped in inventive white table cloth staging with props mimed in front of a sheet stretched wide. The passage’s passage of time is accomplished here at the captain’s dinner with conversation punctuated by Martin Antonio Guerra’s buffoonish Major Archibald Willingham Butt and his endless adventure stories. Threaded through are the messages of icebergs to the captain (a steady James Williams) and the constant urging to go faster by the mustachioed Greg Dulcie as White Star line big wig, Joseph Bruce Ismay. The triangle of tension between these two and the ship’s designer, Thomas Andrews Jr., (a stunning Ryan Appleby) foreshadow their ill fortune. It makes for some great singing, however.
Among the lower class are the Kates: Murphey, Mullins and McGowen (Katie Moyes Williams, Erika Larsen and Kylie Arnold, respectively). Though they are all lovely, the finding love plotline belongs to Arnold and Drew Shafranek. But as darling as they are they can’t compare to the duet between the coal shoveling, Anthony Fortino, and the radio operator, Aaron C. White, who helps him send a marriage proposal home to his girl.
Lest you think that all the love is locked in steerage, the first-class Straus’ have a more mature running romance. Jay Taylor and Lois Sonnier Hart provide a pristine example of a stable relationship and are rewarded with a late, late duet in which the characters show us how it’s done.
As many great moments as there are in the evening the two that are the most hair-raising are the least alike. One is a showstopper and the other, a starter. When Appleby takes the stage in the opening number, “In Every Age,” he takes the audience back to the time and place of Titanic. Standing alone next to a model, with a voice as strong and luxurious as that famous ship, it’s hard to know how the show will get better. Chills spread through Irving Arts Center’s Carpenter Performance Hall despite the Texas heat outside.
The show-stopping sequence “To the Lifeboats,” on the other hand, is a company effort. Working as ensemble, as well as, distinct characters the sinking ship becomes an individual dilemma, as there aren’t enough spaces on the lifeboats for everyone. Tension and terror climax into a resigned acceptance as the last lifeboat pulls away achieved simply by the group moving up the aisle away from the stage. Despite the challenge of many moving parts and multiple internal reprises, the company triumphs here with a powerfully shaped number that will leave you breathless.
Despite the sad tale, the show achieves a hopeful message. In front of a last stunning visual splash courtesy of Ryan Matthieu Smith’s costumes, it’s clear that the lifeboats will be found. Life will go on. But, the show isn’t about preserving life at all costs. Titanic, represents great folly, of course, but the creators of this show recognize that the risk inherent in the great ship unites the characters inside her as well. To risk is to hope for something better. What’s life without risk? What’s more human than hope?
In the end, we’re all in the same boat.