Once Again Lyric’s Titan Michael Baron Astounds with “Titanic”
There is no doubt that Michael Baron is a genius at launching a success—had he launched the Titanic, she never would have sunk-but sink she did and the great loss is a story that has fascinated the public for over a century. The stories of courage and cowardice, wealth and poverty, sacrifice and greed are told beautifully by Peter Stone with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. The “Titanic” musical is nothing like the fictional ‘Titanic’ movie by James Cameron, but it is a powerful story reconstructing the lives that were lost as well as the lives of survivors with truth. This award winning musical is a perfect vehicle for Lyric Theatre and Michael Baron to reveal their incredible talents as well as the amazing abilities of cast and crew.
Baron directs this musical with a different approach—concentrating on the stories rather than the storytelling, and that focus makes the storytelling brilliant. Kimberly Powers is wonderful in Set Design, the Titanic is created intricately yet the illusion of the most majestic ocean liner ever built is seen with stark simplicity and astute reality. As part of the set itself, the orchestra and vocalists are on the stage, and their presence provides the illusion of passengers. Musical Director Alexander Mickelthwate of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra leads the 22 piece orchestra along with 58 extraordinary vocals from Canterbury Voices filling the auditorium and complimenting powerfully exciting voices of the cast. Vince Leseney provides choral direction in addition to performing. Haunting yet uplifting, the sound is profound, and the ambiance of ship-board life aboard this ship of dreams is encompassing. Beneath the music one can still detect the slight sound of waves lapping against the hull! Is this the subtlety of Sound Designer Anthony Risi or the imagination of patrons? Clearly the entire experience stimulates the imagination as well as entertaining the senses. Helena Kuukka designs effective lighting endowing the auditorium with mood and highlighting performances with exactly the right emotions.
With this set layout one would think that the available space for the main characters to interact would be restricted but that is not the case, the space focuses and therefore enhances the performances of the characters. There is plenty of room for the dancing sequences to be performed with skillful choreography from Matthew Sipress and Ashley Wells. It is easy to imagine dancing in the first class dining saloon alongside a certain second class passenger who couldn’t resist hobnobbing with prestigious first class passengers.
Everyone knows the story of the Titanic, sinking after striking an iceberg on April 15, 1912 with 1,525 souls. Saving everyone required 54 lifeboats but only 20 lifeboats were aboard. And in the confusion, some lifeboats were launched only partially occupied. “Titanic” tells the story of a number of first class, second class and steerage passengers as well as crew members giving us a living glimpse of all the passengers. Women and children first, yet Isador Straus, a prominent and distinguished elderly gentleman is invited to join his wife on the lifeboat. He refuses as long as women and children remain aboard the doomed ship. His wife, Ida Straus elects to stay with him saying: ‘We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.’ Her words were witnessed and remembered by the survivors on the lifeboat. The beautiful poignancy of this moment is re-created disarming many couples attending.
The gorgeous costumes of prestigious passengers, charming attire of less fortunate voyagers and the authenticity of crew member uniforms are due to the research, imagination and dexterity of Jeffrey Meek and his crew. Properties are under the dominion of Courtney Strong, minimally used but authentically presented.
The ship goes down, but the audience rises in appreciation of a superb performance but also with respect for the souls departed and surviving that fateful night. That poor decisions were made is unassailable, but many lessons have been learned and revisited. Each character is portrayed with sensitivity and clarity.
There are many stand-out performances among the cast of over 40 superb performers. Jeffrey Ambrosini is Captain E. J. Smith, going down with his ship in disgrace as he pays for the mistakes of everyone as well as his own. Patrick Borror is J. Bruce Ismay owner of White Star Lines and the villain of the event traditionally however, Borror wisely and generously tempers the character with some empathy and genuine heartache. Mateja Govich is a cynical John Jacob Astor, played with dignity as well as with slight deprecation. Jessica Anne Martens, Tatum Grace Ludlam and Megan Carpenter are three Irish young ladies in steerage all called Kate, performing energetically and wonderfully.
Ian Marcontell is exceptional as Frederick Barrett with a resounding voice and Charlie Monnot as Harold Bride, telegrapher is amazing in his performance with poignant and lively lyrics. Gavin Guthrie is exciting as the youthful cabin boy/bellboy. Christopher Richie as Joseph Phillippe Lemercier Laroche, and Emily Pace as Juliette LaFargue (Laroche) are quite lovely, especially Richie’s heart-wrenching loss of life and love. Elvie Ellis as Charles Clark, Collin O’Neill and Austin Rindler give awe-inspiring performances. Sean Steele and Regina Grimaldi as Edgar and Alice Beane of 2nd Class, (Alice aspiring for first as mentioned above) are quite wonderful. With such a large cast, not everyone is noted, but each one is most definitely notable.
As a reviewer objectivity is a goal aspired to in all occasions, and it is absolutely true that every single musical presented this season has been truly and honestly phenomenal. However, some subjectivity is unavoidable. At the moment Barbara Fox DeMaio as Ida Straus is standing upon the deck in the Arctic waters she rubs her arms and I became chilled. Then, seated beside my husband of over 40 years, just like the Straus lovers, DeMaio and Stephen Hilton as that loving couple sing their goodbyes with soaring voices and we connected. They went down with the ship, and 100 years later we go on, Will and I. Sometimes a little subjectivity is necessary to understand objectively. Of course Barbara Fox DeMaio and Stephen Hilton are brilliant actors as well as dynamic singers!
Seated to my left Lynne Taylor-Corbett (who is looking forward to the premier of her new musical “Distant Thunder” co-authored by Shaun Taylor-Corbett at Lyric in March of 2020) notes the different concept between this “Titanic” and the original Broadway premier she choreographed in 1997. She found this “Titanic” to be extremely interesting as well as valid and is very excited to be working with Lyric Theatre on “Distant Thunder” early next year.
“Titanic” plays July 23 through Sunday’s matinee Ju1y 28, 2019. The Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall is located in downtown OKC at 201 N. Walker Avenue and their box office telephone number is 405-594-8300. Or simply call the Lyric Theatre Box Office direct at 405-524-9312. You can also visit www.lyrictheatreokc.org for tickets and information.