The opening 15 minutes of Titanic: The Musical, recreating the tragic 1912 sinking of the doomed ocean liner, is one of the most stirring, evocative sequences in all of musical theater.(The show won a 1997 Tony Award for best musical as well as four other Tonys.) It grabs you as you meet dozens of characters boarding the ship, overflowing with great expectations — of success, of escaping poverty, of new life in America, of achieving dreams. But we know what awaits many of them in the freezing North Atlantic after the collision with an iceberg. Composer and lyricist Maury Yeston created a score that demands numerous solo voices and a massive choral effort. It’s a “titanic” undertaking for any theater, and it’s a challenge met admirably by Cincinnati Music Theatre, perhaps our city’s most ambitious community theater. A cast of 37, accompanied by 20 musicians (Charles Wilhelm conducts), all volunteers, generate a powerful, professional choral “voice” that wrings every possible drop of emotion from these tales of heroism and bravery, love and responsibility. (Kathy Kramer served as vocal director.) The musical assembles stories from this “floating city, a human metropolis,” portraying every category of character, from passengers wealthy and poor to the officers and crew. Each has memorable musical moments in CMT’s production, ably staged by director Mark Femia. There’s outstanding vocal work by Rick Kramer as the stalwart captain, Tony Bergman as a hardworking stoker, Ron Burrage as a lonely telegraph operator, H. Scott Nesbitt as the devoted chief steward and Patrick Carnes as the regretful first officer, but many others could be cited. The show has many emotional moments, perhaps best exemplified by the devoted Isidor and Ida Straus, who after 40 years of marriage, choose certain death together by remaining on board (“Still”). The impressive physical production, including gorgeous period costumes (Diane Carr) and a set that believably recreates the sinking ship, fills up the stage of the Aronoff’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater. (Kramer, who plays the captain, also designed the set.) CMT has done epic work on this epic tale.
TITANIC: THE MUSICAL, presented by Cincinnati Music Theatre, continues through May 19 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.