A chandelier, a wooden steering wheel and an ensemble of immensely talented performers grace the stage at the Courthouse Center for the Arts in its superb production of "Titanic," a musical retelling of the first and final voyage of history’s most infamous ship.
It was just over a century ago, in April 1912, when the RMS Titanic, "the largest floating palace in the world," en route from Southampton to New York, struck an iceberg and sank in the Atlantic Ocean with more than half of its 2,000 passengers on board.
That fateful evening has since been the subject of countless books, documentaries and films, including James Cameron’s renowned Oscar-winner starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. "Titanic" the musical, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and story by Peter Stone, premiered on Broadway in 1997 and went on to win five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The endless fascination with the ship is not limited to its then-incomparable size or the series of unfortunate events leading up to its tragic outcome. Because those on board varied from the world’s wealthiest to the penniless, the Titanic is a veritable microcosm of society, with each "class" duly represented.
The first, upper class of this particular production includes Bruce Ismay (Chris Gleim), a gentleman of privilege who always gets what he asks for, and Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus (Charles Sweigart and Eliza Collins), a well-traveled longtime married couple enjoying their golden years.
Edgar Beane (Joseph Robinson) and his boisterous, social-climbing wife, Alice (Poppy Champlin), exemplify the second class, perhaps better described as those who can afford to be above board but not worthy of rubbing elbows with the upper deck.
Finally, there’s the third, lower class, or the dreamers seeking a life better than the one left behind, like the three Kates (Alex Campbell, Jo Jo Karlin and Alison Novelli) and young chap, Jim Farrell (Matthew Montana).
Under the masterful direction of Richard Ericson, most cast members take on several roles while the stage unites all three classes, as well as the crew, in song and dance. Highlights from the Tony-winning score include "Lady’s Maid," an uplifting expression of hope, "The Proposal/The Night Was Alive," a touching ballad, and the profound "No Moon."
The entire cast is such a collective force of talent that I’m hard pressed to pinpoint any that stand out. Campbell, Karlin and Novelli are all delightful, as a group and each in her own right. Joseph Robinson tackles all three of his roles impressively and is especially poignant as builder, Thomas Andrews.
Jared Robinson’s performance of crew member, Harold Bride, is seamless, and his wordless portrayal of Madame Aubert deserves special mention. Sweigart is commanding and compassionate as Captain E.J. Smith and Isidor Straus. Champlin’s contagious energy on stage is equally affectionate and humorous as Alice, and Montana’s performance as Jim is heartfelt and genuine.
Michal Salonia steals every one of his scenes as the Bandleader, while Chris Gleim takes ownership of the stage and truly becomes his characters, polar opposites Bruce Ismay and Fred Barrett.
Further enveloping this enchanting production are musicians Lila Kane, Amy Bedard and Brian Grochowski. It would be criminal, and nearly as tragic as the Titanic’s voyage, if I failed to mention Jane Stein’s superior costumes.
"Titanic" continues through July 15 at Courthouse Center for the Arts, 3481 Kingstown Road, West Kingston, RI. For more information, visit the Courthouse Center for the Arts website.