Spoiler alert. If you go to see Titanic the Musical at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, presented by the J Players, you should know that the ship sinks.
On a more serious note, the sinking of the Titanic exemplifies the idea of hubris. The ship was the largest afloat at the time. On April 10, 1912, the Titanic left Southampton, England on her maiden voyage to New York City. She was luxuriously appointed and the first class passengers included some of the world's wealthiest citizens. Because the Titanic was deemed to be so safe it carried only 20 lifeboats. This was in the belief that she was unsinkable and the lifeboats were necessary only to rescue survivors of other sinking ships. Clearly that pride in the ship's invulnerability was misplaced.
The incident was also a stark reflection of the class system in both Europe and America. Of the women aboard the ship, 97 percent of those in first class survived, while only 49 percent of the women in the lowest priced accommodations came out alive. In all, 1,522 passengers and crew were lost—a grave number indeed.
The infamous story of the sinking of the Titanic has been in the subject of several films, and much has been written about it. In 1997 both the Broadway musical and the acclaimed James Cameron movie opened. The Broadway show, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and book by Peter Stone, ran for almost two years and garnered Tony awards for Best Musical, Book, Score, Orchestrations and Set Design.
When James Cameron made the movie, he felt that adding a love story to the plot would draw audiences in. Casting Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in those starring roles certainly brought about the desired effect. It was a huge success, won numerous Oscars and set box office records.
Such a love story is not in the musical, but it isn't missed.
In the current JCC production, director and choreographer Linda Leonard moves the cast of more than 40 with ease, creating visual pictures and avoiding static tableaux. While this is not a heavy dancing show, the few choreographed numbers are appropriate to the time and well executed.
Although the JCC boasts a fairly large stage, the cast does encounter some space constraints from time to time but overall Leonard places her characters well and the use of two moveable staircases eloquently illustrates the divisions between the classes from steerage in the holds on up to the elegant first class cabins.
Given the length of the show (two-and-a-half hours), the action and pacing are tight. Perhaps a few of show's songs could be cut, but it is designed to give virtually each cast member their "moment in the sun." One quibble is that the actors' microphones occasionally crackle and pop, which detracts from the beauty of their singing.
This is a strong cast, with several standout performances. From the top; as the Captain, Dan Servetnick gives a subtle performance, underplaying the angst of a man with an august career who is suddenly in charge of a shipwreck. Ismay, the Ship's owner, is Jerome Stein, all ponderous posturing as the man who has bought and paid for the Titanic.
Andi Allen (Ida Strauss) elegantly represents the crème de la crème in first class. Through her walk and gestures she gives a convincing portrayal of a woman many years her senior, with Mark Hawkins as her tender and devoted husband. And Tony Adams plays steward Etches with grace and aplomb; keeping an appropriately low profile in his scenes and excelling in his solos.
Michael Rutner is clearly first hopeful then guilt-ridden as the chief architect of the ship. As he sings of his vision for the Titanic it's apparent in his tone how sorrowful he is about the perverse fate brought upon his beloved ship.
Delynda Johnson Moravec offers up a giggle-worthy performance as Alice Beane, a second class passenger constantly working her way into first class doings. As they gather in the first class salon in pajamas to await the lifeboats, Bean gushes to her patient husband about how thrilling it is to be among the ultra-rich.
Three Irish lasses named Kate form the backbone of the third-class ranks. Kate McGowan (Laura Lites) has fled home with a child in her belly and no man to help. Lovely, with long red ringlets and a clear soprano voice, Lites radiates courage and hope in the role as she befriends and falls in love with a young man and heads to America in hopes of becoming a lady's maid.
And finally, the workers down below are ably represented by John Campione (Barrett) as a stoker who keeps the fires alight to move the ship on her voyage across the sea. Campione brings stature to the role, with strong yet graceful movements coupled with a command of the stage and stellar tenor voice.
Musical director Mary Medrick does an excellent job with the production. The orchestra is capable and the choral singing is tight and harmonious. Soloists are in control of their voices, not straining but appearing to sail easily through the complicated score.
All-in-all, Leonard has put together a production that is easy to admire. So even though the Titanic sinks, this show is an uplifting experience that is not to be missed.