Highly Recommended Theater: TITANIC: THE MUSICAL (London’s Southwark Playhouse; Streaming on BroadwayHD)

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by Tony Frankel on November 28, 2023

in Film,Theater-International,Virtual


London’s Southwark Playhouse’s total triumph is a strange success. It’s odd that a more intimate version of a musical called Titanic can so succeed. Director Thom Southerland‘s production was first seen in 2013 and has regularly played the West End since, recently completing its 10th-anniversary tour. The cast may be reduced, the sets not so intricate, but with glorious costumes and a knockout cast, this 1997 musical by Maury Weston (music and lyrics) and Peter Stone (book) positively soars. I caught the filmed version at a Fathom screening recently and loved it. Watching it as a film, captured live on stage in the UK for cinema screenings, is a completely different experience than seeing it in person. This is the best directed production I’ve seen. The cast is perfect. The camera work and all of the close-ups provide a seamless liquidity for the transitions, which makes every moment more immediate. I am amazed by the clarity of the sound and the ability to hear every word. BroadwayHD will exclusively stream the worldwide premiere of Titanic: The Musical beginning December 15, 2023.

Not for a moment to be compared to James Cameron’s pile-driving film version of 1997, the musical is in fact more faithful to the diversity of the disaster (the Tony-winning musical opened eight months before the blockbuster movie). The 20 characters span all decks, classes and fates–from first class to steerage, from the quarter deck to the engine room, from the auspicious launching of a maiden voyage to the appalling foundering of the largest moving object on the planet circa 1912. Its two-hour transformation from regal to wrecked is still astounding: What, wondered poet Thomas Hardy, did the fish make of this “vaingloriousness” plummeting through their depths?

Stoking this musical is its captivating love/hate relationship with the doomed White Star Liner. The opening numbers “In Every Age” and “How Did They Build Titanic?” burst with the hubris of an 11-story ship that “even God couldn’t sink,” a “floating city” that turned the usually grueling transatlantic crossing into a fabulous party at 22 knots per hour. At the same time Titanic mirrors the worst of Britain–class distinctions, imperious snobbery, the toilers in the boilers, the expendability of third-class passengers denied lifeboats, and the arrogant stupidity of sailing too quickly, heedless of ice fields and minus binoculars. An instant catastrophe immediately delineates heroism and cowardice in doomed wireless operators, stalwart stevedores and sailors, teenage bellboys, and Bruce Ismay, the infamous White Star magnate who learns that speed kills and who has the temerity to survive his own fiasco.

Very much a communal work, this swift-moving Titanic surges with ensemble anthems like the ironic “I Must Get On That Ship,” the sickeningly serene ballad “No Moon,” the ragtime romp “Doing the Latest Rag,” and the chaotic counterpoint of “To the Lifeboats.” Balancing these group efforts are cunningly glimpsed, running portraits of passengers and crew—a haughty waiter who’s not without a heart, a second-class misalliance of a marriage, the faithful-to-the-end devotion of Ida and Isador Strauss, a stoker’s paean to power, a celebrity-obsessed gate crasher.



It’s tempting to give in to gallows humor, to say Titanic rises to its occasion or descends into darkness. Better to let it just sail into history, with 1,517 fewer people alive than when it left Liverpool. For this production, much like the Iroquois Theatre victims in Burning Bluebeard, these thwarted travelers get their due.

photos by Pamela Raith

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