From the captivating opening number to the touching and emotional close, Timber Lake Playhouse's rendition of “Titanic” is sensational. Artistic Director James Beaudry, who both directs and choreographs this production, has created a stunning masterpiece with this one.
On opening night Thursday, July 28, it was easy to see that the nearly full house had high expectations for the show. After all, this subject is the stuff of legends with very deep roots in history. The audience has seen the movie, watched TV shows, read the books, so they were all eager to see how this musical could compare.
After the spine-chilling company performance of "The Launching" any doubts were laid to rest.
If you've been lucky enough to see any of the shows so far this season at TLP, you will know how powerful the voices are this year. Now imagine them all together, singing to the fullest, in perfect harmony. They wave their farewell, setting out on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, the massive deck of the enormous ship behind them. It is simply breathtaking. A true work of art.
The monumental set, featuring a giant smoke stack and grand meandering staircases is designed by Arnel Sancianco. It is positioned on TLP's unique revolving stage. It spins in what seems nearly constant motion as the musical shifts from scene to scene. With each rotation, the set changes to perfectly meet the needs of the scene.
Unlike a typical stage production, “Titanic” doesn't seem to center itself on any one particular character. Instead the audience gets glimpses of what the experience must have been like for the many different individuals affected by the tragic event. A yearning for survival and the strength of the human spirit seem to take on the leading role, rather than a specific character.
Each character has to be equally strong in their delivery to make themselves memorable, and the 2016 company more than delivers in this realm.
Alec Irion plays Thomas Andrews, designer and builder of the ship. Irion is the ideal performer for this part, as he easily exudes the proud creator in the opening song and a sorrowful, repentant man as he realizes his fixable flaw in design as the ship is sinking.
Chandler Smith is exceptional as the stoker Barrett. His character highlights the lives of those that worked below deck on the ship. Smith's duet with Roy Brown, who plays the ship's socially-awkward yet lovable telegrapher, is one of those scenes that you remember long after the show is over.
Guest performer Pat Flaherty makes the perfect captain for the Titanic. Not only is his look perfect, with his white beard and practiced pragmatism, but he is throughout very genuine, taking the role very much to heart.
Ship owner J. Bruce Ismay is well-played by Kieran McCabe. Ever pushing the captain to drive the ship faster, Ismay is unrepentant as he takes a place on the lifeboats despite the many left behind to die. It's no small task McCabe has in portraying the man that many want to blame for the catastrophe, and he delivers flawlessly.
One of the most touching scenes is given by guest performers Rus Rainear and Judy Knudtson who play Isidor and Ida Straus. Ida refuses to board a lifeboat, demanding to stay with her husband of 40 years. The couple that has lived together chooses to die together. The connection they share is haunting.
Kate McGowan and Jim Farrell, played by the talented Caroline Kasay and Matthew Salvatore, represent the hopes and dreams of the third class that has boarded the Titanic in hopes of a better life in America.
A great performance is given by Andrew Sickel who plays First Officer Murdoch. His unease of being responsible for so many lives is easily seen in every facial expression and palpable in his solo, "To Be a Captain".
Tyler Klingbiel plays Mr. Etches the first class steward. Mr. Etches touches base with every class of passenger on the ship. His character is vital in tying the characters together. Klingbiel is a great choice for the task, as he portrays the always professional first class servant as well as a sympathetic representation of the second and third class with ease to the very end.
Elya Bottiger, who has earned a place in the hearts of TLP-goers this season, gives an A-1 performance as Alice Beane. She provides some much needed comic relief as the second-class lady yearns to be part of all of the happenings in first class. Yet she is very authentic in her delivery when things turn serious.
There are no small parts in this show, as every character is living out a life and death experience. It is not possible in a review to explain the reverence these TLP performers give to their parts, providing a living legacy for those that lost their lives on the Titanic.
Performers also included Luke Stewart as lookout, Hunter Lindner as Officer Lightoller, Levi Skoog as the young bellboy, Jesek West as Kate Murphy, Annalise Griswold as Kate Mullins, Ken Singleton as Charles Clark, Olivia Kaufman as Caroline Neville, Ross Shenker as Edgar Beane, Lauren McKee as Mrs. Astor and Shayla Brielle G. as Charlotte Cardoza.
Costumes are off-the-charts remarkable. Class divisions are central to the plot. Costume supervisor Kenan Burchette distinguishes first, second and third class passengers without a word needing to be spoken. Characters look very authentic and believable, helping to draw you completely into the story.
Music, under the direction of Cindy Blanc and Andrew Milliken, is beautiful. The strong musicians in this group easily fill out the sound needed for this epic performance. Although the musicians are never seen, their presence is very much felt throughout the show.
Lighting design is provided by Riley Wood, sound design by Kevin Johnson, hair design by Emma O'Dell, properties design by Sandra Lopez and stage management by Mary-Catherine Mikalayunas.
Importantly, the audience leaves this show empathetic for those that lost their lives and for those that were left to carry on, holding the memory of this event with them.
TLP's “Titanic” is a monumental performance delivered with poetic, romantic and thoughtful reverence.
Very nicely done.
Titanic is showing at the playhouse in rural Mount Carroll through Sunday, Aug. 7. Tickets are available online at timberlakeplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at 815-244-2048.