Review: Titanic The Musical at Newcastle Theatre Royal
Titanic the Musical @ Newcastle Theatre Royal – Monday 27th March 2023
Another show to celebrate Musical Theatre Day!
I truly did not know what to expect before I visited the Theatre Royal to watch Titanic the Musical. I had never previously heard of it. Like most people my age, I enjoyed the movie and as a primary school teacher I have covered this topic many times in school so I was curious to see how it would compare to a) The Movie and b) The Historical Knowledge I had previously looked into. It was written by Maury Euston and rose to fame as it collected five Tony Awards on its 1997 release. So this is a true revival of the show.
The synopsis available on the website certainly sets the scene.
Newcastle Theatre Royal:
In the final hours of 14th April 1912 the RMS Titanic, on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, collided with an iceberg and ‘the unsinkable ship’ slowly sank. It was one of the most tragic disasters of the 20th Century. 1517 men, women and children lost their lives.
Based on real people aboard the most legendary ship in the world, Titanic The Musical is a stunning and stirring production focusing on the hopes, dreams and aspirations of her passengers who each boarded with stories and personal ambitions of their own.
All innocently unaware of the fate awaiting them, the Third Class immigrants dream of a better life in America, the Second Class imagine they too can join the lifestyles of the rich and famous, whilst the millionaire Barons of the First Class anticipate legacies lasting forever.
With music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and a book by Peter Stone (Woman of the Year and 1776), the pair have collectively won an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, an Olivier Award and three Tony awards. The original Broadway production of Titanic The Musical won five Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. This stunning production celebrates the 10th anniversary of its London premiere where it won sweeping critical acclaim across the board.
Unlike the movie, Titanic the Musical does not focus on one person’s story yet the whole cast and their stories. It was not derived from a fictional love story but from the stories of the real life Titanic passengers – this made it feel all the more chilling. It was hard to pick a stand out performance as they all worked so well as a team. They just blended together with great ease. No one stealing the limelight, just terrific ensemble work.
There was a delay in starting the show due to technical difficulties but we were not left waiting long before the show began. When we arrived there was a single desk on stage with one man working away, we would later find out this would be Thomas Andrews played by the wonderful Ian McLarnon who was designing the ship for the dastardly J. Bruce Isnay who was played by Martin Allanson. He truly was a terrible baddy and I found myself hissing every time he came onto stage. Totally unlikeable in every way, I even dropped a sneaky boo at the end! Brilliant commitment to his character.
The scenery was just impeccable and so cleverly designed. Bravo, David Woodhead for the set design. It consisted of the lower stage being the bottom deck and a high layer with a clear top deck which was connected by a set of moving stairs. The actors went up and down the steps with such ease and precision and they were used a lot during choreography as well. I loved how they were seamlessly able to bring props on and off stage without pausing. There was no stopping throughout the whole show- no awkward set changes or waiting with music between scenes. Very well delivered from the cast and clearly a lot of hard work had gone into this. During some of the end scenes, I was flabbergasted as the gigantic ropes fell down to the stage and the top deck of the boat even moved. Although, I don’t think I’d have liked to have been the one holding on!
I will say the epic score gave a nod to all of the older musicals we know and love however, I bet some would argue it may sound outdated. Four part harmonies galore and the need for a rather large band. I was disappointed as I always love to see the band but I am guessing there were just so many of them they were unable to fit. The music never stopped throughout the full 2 hours and 40 minutes – yes, it is a very long show particularly Act One. Similar to Les Miserables, there are very few speaking parts, just singing and music throughout.
The plot and storyline is of a very deep, dark nature as you would expect. The fact you are aware the stories are real makes it feel so personable too. The lyrics used throughout the show allowed us to fall in love with all of the different characters and their stories. From a young couple who have run away to become wed to a young Irish woman who is pregnant and finds love on board. I got goosebumps every time the captain mentioned it being his last voyage as we were already foreshadowing what was to come. It handled the issue of class and social structure very well too. As we all know, the first class were saved first and it addresses this with respect and dignity to those who sadly lost their lives.
The lyrics of the songs are so cleverly pieced together as they let the story unfold whilst giving us actual facts and figures about the Titanic. 23 knots was too quick for The Titanic and they aimed to make a 12 day round trip! I don’t think the movie ever taught me that. I was astonished by the blend of voices on stage and the male voices particularly were chilling. The perfect blend of tenors and basses. My friend actually exclaimed that she couldn’t have reached some of the high notes some of the male cast were reaching. Yet again, a perfect blend- no one overpowering or trying to outshine anyone else.
During ‘Opening’ and ‘Godspeed Titanic’ I loved the use of the passengers and crew working their way through the audience with the help of the rake leading on and off from the stage. This was used at various points throughout the show and always works well in my opinion as it introduces yet another level to the stage. In both of these songs we heard from all of the different passengers entering the ship excitedly. They delivered the particularly difficult songs with passion and oomph. A special mention to Bree Smith playing Alice Beane who had some of the most fast pace, tongue tying lyrics of the evening.
Some of my favourite numbers certainly fell in the first half. I adored Barnaby Hughes’ performance as both Herbert Pitman and our effervescent butler Henry Etches. He delivered the most spoken lines throughout and had excellent clarity with his spoken voice and a beautiful tone to his singing voice. I could have listened all day.
During ‘The Proposal/ The Night Was Alive’ we got to fall in love of the stories of two totally different men- Barrett and Bride played by Adam Filipe and Alistair Hill gave a truly stunning performance of this song where two strangers on a boat just listen to one another’s story and provide a helping hand. If I’d recommend any song from the show to listen to it would be this or Lady’s Maid which was performed to perfection by the 3 Kate’s – it’s an Irish thing- and the third class passengers. The 3 Kate’s played by Emily George, Niamh Long and Lucie-Mae Summer sang some of the most stunning harmonies I have heard in a very long time. Their voices carried through the rest of the chorus numbers as well.
At the end of Act One, all couples were arriving at the top deck and it was a very unique way of delivering this scene. They each sang a part of No Moon, as they swapped and danced around the stage allowing us to focus on all of the different storylines and scenarios. I adored their matching outfits and this made it easy to spot which couples were together- cleverly designed! During this part however, the black cloth started to fall in. An error on behalf of the stage crew I imagine but the cast never let this stop them and carried on regardless. This was quickly rectified and the end of Act One came to a screeching halt. Bright white lights filled the whole room and it almost felt cold in there. Then it plummeted into total darkness. The lighting throughout the second half particularly, was expertly designed and allowed them to approach difficult subjects with compassion such as the deaths of those on board. A huge well done to Howard Hudson.
Act Two was much shorter but incredibly intense. It literally had me on the edge of my seat and it just flew over. Not to give any of the story away but the storyline between Ida and Isidor Straus played by Valds Aviks and David Delve has to be one of the most heartwarming but heartbreaking scenes I’ve ever watched. They performed their song ‘Still’ beautifully and I honestly was sobbing throughout. The music seemed to become much more erratic throughout the second half and this fitted the panic and hysteria so well- once again, a testament to the score for setting the scene.
The ending was a difficult watch but paid beautiful homage to the help from their rival boat company- the Carpathia and paid tribute to the 1,503 passengers who sadly lost their lives.
This show was not an easy watch. It was, however, intense, educational and outstanding to say the least. It would be a History lover’s dream and a good one for those fans of true musical theatre. Thank you for a wonderful, touching evening. For making me smile, laugh and even cry. A real, touching tribute for the real lives that took to the White Star Line. I, for one, am over the moon that more people will get to see this wonderful musical as it tours the U.K. I think it’s truly a work of art.
Show – 4.5/5