I am so glad the 5th Avenue Theatre is bringing Titanic – The Concert to the stage this weekend (April 13-15) - and not because it's the 100th anniversary of the ship's tragic sinking.
I had the opportunity to watch a rehearsal yesterday and from just that glimpse, the show promises to be more powerful than I was ready to give it credit for.
In case you’re like one of these poor Twitter users who didn’t know, Titanic was not just a big break for Leonardo DiCaprio’s career. It was a real passenger ship, groundbreaking in both size and luxury in its day.
On its maiden voyage between England and New York City, it struck an iceberg and slowly sank to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, where it still sits today (I think James Cameron might actually be building an underwater lair there where he can live post-retirement).
Because the ship was thought to be unsinkable, it wasn’t equipped with enough lifeboats to accommodate all passengers. Over 1,500 people died, many of them from the "lower class" cabins on the ship.
Stanley Bahorek and Ed Watts rehearse a scene from Titanic
The show at 5th Avenue will be staged "concert-style." 35 actors will remain on stage throughout the night, performing their parts from music stands and supported by a 25-piece orchestra and the 76-person strong Pacific Lutheran University Choral Union--all on stage together. Throughout the show, historic images from the real Titanic voyage will be projected in a multimedia display.
Several big Broadway talents familiar with the 5th Avenue stage have flown in to sing the principal parts, including Stanley Bahorek (Candide) and Ed Watts (Saving Aimee), who looks a lot like "Mark Sloane" from Grey’s Anatomy up close. (Any room left in your lifeboat, sir?)
The minimalist (if tightly packed) approach seems perfect. Instead of lobby discussion circling around how the set designers depicted the ship sinking, the focus can stay with the compelling personal stories.
Take, for example, Alice and Edgar Beane.
They are fictional characters played in this production by actress Anne Allgood (she was Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!) and David Quicksall (he directed Coriolanus at Seattle Shakespeare).
The Beanes are inspired by real Titanic survivors Edgar and Ethel Beane. They boarded the Titanic as newlyweds with second class tickets and were among the lucky few who made it into lifeboats.
More compelling than their survival, even, is the imagined story that brought them to the boat in the first place: a desire to do more with their lives, to seize opportunity.
In one of the musical's numbers, "Alice" moons over the millionaires gathered in the first class dining lounge and scolds her husband for not aspiring to be in there along with her: “I want more than we’ve got now, Edgar…why don’t you?”
Rehearsing in a funky space across the street from the theater, which the staff calls "the 19th hole" (it's a former golf store that still has its AstroTurf carpet, shown above), Anne Allgood mulled on why this show is so fascinating to her. “I think it’s because these are stories that really happened—these are people that lived and breathed.”
Interestingly, not just people, but a lot of working and middle class people all on the same boat with gazillionaires.
“Do we have anything analogous in our world [to the Titanic]?” Allgood wondered. “I guess it would be like two thousand of us traveling into space with Oprah and Bill Gates on the same ship.”
From telegraph operators, to engine workers to social climbers, Titanic's songs paint a full picture of life on the Titanic, including frustrations and hopes of the lower and middle class passengers that, thanks to the 99 percent movement, hit home stronger than ever.
GO SEE IT
April 13-15; 5th Avenue Theater1308, 5th Ave; 206.625.1900; 5thavenue.org
Tickets start at $19.