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Review: Titanic the Musical at the Birmingham Hippodrome
Culture Editor Olivia Boyce reviews the powerful touring production of Titanic the Musical at the Birmingham Hippodrome.
Few are unfamiliar with the tragic story of the Titanic, the ‘unsinkable’ ocean liner that struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage, resulting in the loss of 1517 lives. It has been the subject of James Cameron’s blockbuster Hollywood epic, and has remained in public consciousness after the exploration of the wreck by Robert Ballard in 1985. Now, an award-winning musical has made its way to the Birmingham Hippodrome, and proves to be powerful, emotional, and simply unmissable.
The original Broadway production of Titanic the Musical won five Tony Awards, including Best Score, Book and Musical, and this new production illustrates exactly why it won such critical acclaim. Titanic The Musical combines an astonishing score, a stunning set and a vocally astounding cast to place the focus on the passengers and crew aboard the ship, highlighting their personal stories throughout the voyage and the tragedy of the aftermath of the disaster.
“'powerful, emotional, and simply unmissable...'
One of the show’s strengths is its eschewing of a few central characters to focus on the broader ensemble, with brilliant vocal performances from everyone on stage. From determined ship owner Ismay to the stoic Captain Smith, the delightfully cheerful Alice Beane to the ambitious three Kates of Third Class, each character is compelling and acted and sung perfectly. The opening numbers, ‘In Every Age’, ‘Opening’ and ‘Godspeed Titanic’ set the tone of excitement, and show from the beginning how accomplished the cast are with Maury Yeston’s music and lyrics, performed here by the excellent band under the supervision of Mark Aspinall.
Amongst the singularly brilliant cast are a few standout performances. Claire Machin as Alice Beane is a joyous performance of a second class passenger longing to dance amongst the starry first class, and Matthew McKenna as Mr Etches, alongside Niall Sheehy’s Frederick Barrett, brought a poignant edge to their performances as two members of the crew in very different roles. Lewis Cornay gives a beautiful assured performance of ‘Autumn’, a song with special poignancy given it was the song played by the band as they continued to perform as the ship sank.
Greg Castiglioni once more displays his vocal prowess in the role of ship designer Andrews. Following a stunning trio called ‘The Blame’ in which he, Simon Green’s Ismay and Philip Ram’s Captain Smith argue about who is at fault for the sinking, Andrew’s later solo ‘Mr Andrew’s Vision’ is a heart-breaking and powerful moment matched by a startling bit of staging, courtesy of David Woodhead's impressive set, that has to be seen to be believed.
“'the way in which the show treats the aftermath and legacy are a suitable and evocative memorial and homage to the passengers and crew.'
The first act focuses primarily on the time passengers spent aboard the ship before the disaster, and in doing so places each firmly within the hearts of the audience, whilst the second act builds upon the first to bring the show to a stunning conclusion that proves to be unforgettable. ‘Still’, sung by the wonderful pairing of Dudley Rogers and Janet Mooney as Isidor and Ida Straus, was a deeply touching number that brought tears to my eyes, and they continued to fall throughout ‘The Foundering’, ‘Finale’ and the reprise of ‘Godspeed Titanic’, which combine to provide one of musical theatre’s most startling and emotional endings. Though we all inevitably know the legendary fate of the Titanic, the way in which the show treats the aftermath and legacy are a suitable and evocative memorial and homage to the passengers and crew.
Director Thom Southerland (whose recent production of The Woman in White at the Charing Cross Theatre was one of the standout productions of last year) cements his status as one of the best musical theatre directors working today, and this production one of the most extraordinary to have toured the UK. With its compelling story and a wonderful cast, Titanic the Musical is sure to delight and move its audience.
More information on Titanic the Musical can be found here.
Trailer features past cast.