Griffin Theatre Company at Theater Wit. Music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. Book by Peter Stone. Directed by Scott Weinstein. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 15mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Maury Yeston and Peter Stone's musical about the tragic fate of the behemoth ocean liner sailed some choppy waters on the way to its 1997 Broadway bow, with reports of glitches with its massive, multimillion dollar sets drawing unfortunate parallels between the show and its subject. (It also had the dubious honor of opening the same year as James Cameron's megahit film.)
This pared-down 2012 revision, seen here in a very fine Griffin Theatre production, suggests a lesson the Titanic's creators could have used: Sometimes less bombast is more satisfying. Which isn't to say it isn't rousing. Though some of the original's vast cast of characters have been eliminated, director Scott Weinstein still packs 20 stirring voices and a six-piece band into a 99-seat theater, making Yeston's nearly nonstop score sound gloriously lush (and refreshingly natural, with sound designer Christopher Kriz eschewing body mics in favor of floor and ceiling models).
Stone's book can feel a little overpacked, with his efforts to acquaint us with passengers and crewmen of every station before we hit the iceberg—and intermission—resulting in some drive-by characterizations. "Still," the lovely late duet between first-class passengers Isidor and Ida Straus (Sean Thomas and Emily Grayson), who've chosen to go down with the ship together, loses some steam, so to speak, in that we haven't really spent any time with the two up to that point.
Still, excellent performances from the well-cast ensemble help to flesh out lightly-sketched characters; there's particularly fine work from Laura McClain and Matt Edmonds as an eloping British couple, Royen Kent as an introverted Marconi operator, Patrick Byrnes as a 1st officer who loses his nerve and Eric Lindahl as the ship's architect, Thomas Andrews.
Joe Schermoly's bilevel set uses a pair of mobile staircases, a passel of wooden chairs and unflashy projections by Paul Deziel to handily establish multiple locations without ever crowding the stage (take that, Broadway hydraulics), just as Sawyer Smith's appealing choreography in large group scenes manages to fill the stage without feeling cramped.
And if Act I's storytelling can seem to fly past the characters at undue speed, try not to be moved by Weinstein's gripping staging of the loading of the lifeboats. This small-scale Titanic is well worth the voyage.