REVIEW: Titanic the Musical at Empire Theatre 05/06/12

Is it a Jack? Is it a Rose? No, it’s Titanic, the Musical, the Tony Award-winning version of events completely unrelated to James Cameron’s film version, though first shown in the same year. Stevie Daly reviews the show brought to the Empire for a 5 day run by West Kirby Light Opera Society (WKLOS) the show continues until Saturday 9th June. 

The events don’t really need an introduction, but just in case you aren’t too familiar with the story… A big ship goes too fast, hits an iceberg and sinks. Lots of people die.

And that’s about it. As far as engaging musical storylines go it’s pretty far down the list so it’s a credit to WKLOS that they have the talent and professionalism to bring it to life. The expansive ensemble cast (40+ main characters) are uniformly excellent; delivering strong vocals and harmonies, spot on mannerisms and perfect comic timing (where appropriate).

Of particular note are Tia Gill as celebrity-obsessed second class passenger Alice Bean who wants to mingle with the cream of the crop, and Matthew Mellor, coming across all Sheldon Cooper as socially awkward Radioman Harold Bride. While some seriously dodgy microphones led to maybe one in twenty lines being partially or totally unheard, the cast ploughed on regardless to make sure the show would go on, even if the maiden voyage wouldn’t.

While not as spectacular as the original Broadway version, the production team work creatively with what they have to bring the many areas of the ship to life, peeling open the curtain layers to reveal more or less as necessary – the dining room set is a standout – and relying on projections and lighting (and a bit of slo-mo swaying from the performers) when the budget doesn’t stretch to sinking an 800-foot ship live on stage. The costumes are great, from sharp uniforms to ball gowns (made by students from the LCC Arts Centre) loud and colourful enough to make a Scousewife at Ladies’ Day blush.

full-cast

Along with a spirited and rousing performance from the orchestra it should all add up to an exhilarating experience, so it’s a shame that it’s ultimately let down by the actual musical itself. The decidedly “old-school” musical style (hello, Rodgers and Hammerstein) and over familiarity with the story play against any strengths from the outset. Cameron’s epic cinematic take is – for better or worse – the one audiences will now most associate with the disaster, and in trying to tell too many stories at once (like the recently-dismal “Drownton Abbey”) it loses the sense of personal drama that the Jack and Rose story, cheesily melodramatic as it may be, brought to proceedings.

There is a love story or two floating about in there somewhere, but without the class-crossing complications that make being drawn like one of your French girls so entertaining they generally drift by without piercing the hull of the audience’s sensibilities.

The lyrics certainly don’t help. Only two numbers really stand out –“The Proposal/The Night Was Alive” a funny/sad love letter to both a sweetheart and the wonders of new radio technology as duetted by the Stoker and Radioman, and “The Blame” as the Captain, designer and owner of the doomed vessel argue over who is responsible. The remainder are devoted to describing the action – or, for much of the running time, lack thereof – and hammering home the “each class has its place” message while attempting to suck as much emotional resonance from the simplistic characters as possible. Subtle, it aint.

It may just be Titanic Fatigue, but it seems that while the hearts (and careers) of everyone at West Kirby Light Opera Society will go on and on, Titanic the Musical should have long ago sank without a trace.

Titanic the Musical
5-9 June 2012
Liverpool Empire Theatre

Tickets: £10-£20

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