By Kyle Osborne
After a decidedly rough 2016, you wanted some good news for the new year? Here it is: Titanic, the Tony Award-winning musical currently playing at Signature Theatre, is as glorious as you’ve heard. You think you know the ending? As the annoying Trivago commercial spokesman might say: “Well, you don’t.”
Director Eric Schaeffer’s interpretation pulls off something that seems nearly impossible: Telling a story that’s as grand as you can imagine, with a large cast of operatic voices—yet making the experience quite intimate. It helps that the musical is set in the round, the viewer is never far from the action, no matter the seat. But also credit the performers for gauging the room just right; these actors know when to belt it out and when to pull it in so subtly, that one may not even notice that he’s leaned in toward the stage, as if to eaves drop on a conversation.
The cast of Titanic at Signature Theatre (Photo: Paul Tate DePoo III)
Bobbie Smith (spectacular in La Cage Aux Folles at Signature) plays Thomas Andrews, the Irish architect in charge of the plans for the ill-fated ocean liner. Taking the stage alone, the soulful actor sings In Every Age (“In every age mankind attempts to fabricate great works, At once magnificent and impossible…”). It’s an almost mournful start–a foreboding reminder that hubris sank that ship every bit as much as an iceberg.
And soon after, we’re off—actors busily come and go via four “gangplanks” around the stage, keeping the action fluid and lively. Scenic Designer Paul Tate dePoo III has put together something perfectly abstract, not too literal—just enough so that the viewer easily finishes ‘the rest’ of the set in the mind’s eye. With a cast of twenty actors, most of whom play multiple roles, Schaeffer, one imagines, had to double as a kind of air traffic controller to sort out the dozens of entrances and exits alone. If you pull yourself out of the story for even a moment, your head will spin wondering “how’d they do that?
Read This Article From the Washington Post About The Set
But not being engaged is unlikely. The old joke about already knowing how the story of the Titanic ends doesn’t come into play here—you still hold your breath on behalf of the passengers, you try to keep the behemoth afloat with sheer will power. You unknowingly destroy your playbill.
It’s not all perilous, though. There’s great fun in the comedic aspects, and the choreography by Matthew Gardiner is, as always, exquisite. We cannot know what the rest of this year will bring us, but we can rest assured that it’s gotten off to the best possible start, at least where theatre is concerned.
Titanic at the Tony-winning Signature Theatre plays through January 29, 2017. For more information, visit www.sigtheatre.org