Titanic. A name that is instantly recognisable.
Not only is it arguably the most famous ship of all time, but many would recognise the name from James Cameron’s 1997 epic blockbuster film of the same name. Little did I realise, there was also a musical production that launched in the same year as the film. With music and lyrics by Maury Yetson and book by Peter Stone, the production swept the floor at the Tony Awards winning five awards including Best Musical. Now in 2022, at the hands of production company The Marrollo Project, Titanic hits the stage at Melbourne’s Town Hall for Titanic The Musical: In Concert.
A concert version of a musical is quite a different experience. Whilst the heart and soul of the music and lyrics remain the same, the production is put on without the extravagant sets and varied costumes of a fully fledged musical. Essentially, it is a stripped back version with the orchestra up on stage and performers playing multiple roles. Having never seen a concert version of a musical before, I was excited to see how it would turn out. And with Anthony Warlow billed as the main performer, I was even more excited. Sadly, as the concert kicked into gear, my excitement quickly turned to anguish. This was no fault of the incredible talent up on stage, but the fault of those behind the scenes. I will get into this later, but first, lets get into the good stuff!
The concert began with a prologue performed by Juan Jackson as Thomas Andrews. The number titled ‘In Every Age’ describes all of the grand and wonderful achievements humankind have made over the years. From the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Sistine Chapel, the Great Wall of China and even the aqueducts of Rome. I could not help but find myself captivated by the synergy of the lyrics and the location in which the concert is being held. If you have never visited the Melbourne Town Hall, there is an almighty Grand Organ at the rear of the stage. Its presence was almost as good as having a giant floating city of a ship in the background as a prop.
Not only does Juan Jackson have an incredible voice, but he also doubles as a narrator and time keeper of the events that are unfolding. A quick gaze to his pocket watch to apprise the audience of the date and time as the story progressed.
Before long, we are introduced to the remaining cast and a wonderful array of talented musical theatre performers. Anthony Warlow as Captain E.J Smith, Kane Alexander as businessman and White Star Line’s Chairman, J. Bruce Ismay. And of course, the already mentioned Juan Jackson as Thomas Andrews, the Titanic Designer and Engineer to round out these three lead roles. Then, there is of course the amazing chorus of twenty performers. Notably, Jonathan Hickey in two roles as Engine Stoker Frederick Barrett and businessman Benjamin Guggenheim, John O’Hara as Third Officer Pitman and First-Class Steward Henry Etches, Madison Green as third-class passenger, Kate McGowan, and Glaston Toft as Officer Lightoller and Businessman JJ. Astor. Honestly though, I could go on and list every single one of chorus because they are incredible performers, but these ones stood out.
For those performers playing a dual role, it was not difficult to tell when they were switching characters. Due to the lack of costume changes, each needed to rely on their own acting chops to portray a different personality. Jonathan Hickey is clearly distinguishable between the two with his main role as Frederic Barrett having a thick New York accent. Hickey also has a wonderfully wholesome number with Samuel Skuthrop as Radio Officer Harold Bride. They sing of Barrett professing his love to his girl back home and Skuthrop’s love for the wireless. Their perfect harmonies made for an audibly delightful and heart-warming number.
Madison Green had a flawless Irish accent that did not waver when she broke into song. Accents are hard to pull off at the best of times, and even harder when needing to sing. I found my gaze instantly locking onto John O’Hara when he entered as First-Class Steward Henry Etches. O’Hara gave the character a happy yet devoted to the work kind of persona that had me watching his every move. Not to mention that he has the vocal chops to match.
Most of the performances had me in a state of schadenfreude. With lyrics that spoke of prosperity and a life of opportunity that awaited at the end of the voyage in America. Knowing full well that everything was going to end in disaster, I couldn’t help but chuckle a little under my breath. And whilst most of the numbers were unintentionally amusing to my bad sense of humour, one number stopped me in my tracks and tugged at the ol’ heart strings. ‘Still’ performed by Martin Croft and Natalie Gamsu as Isidor Straus and wife Ida. They sing of their love for each other and after all of these years of marriage, they can still find the spark in their relationship. Even when their world is literally sinking, their love and devotion to one another is incredibly wholesome and had me shedding a tear.
Anthony Warlow. Is there a role that this talented man cannot play? Even though his character of Captain E.J Smith barely has any stage time, every time Warlow did set foot on stage he absolutely knocked it out of the park. Even just walking out on stage at the start of the show, Warlow received a thundering applause. The stage presence and respect that Warlow commands in every performance is unmatched and it is no different in this production. I only wish I got to see him appear more.
Now, time to get into the negatives. Much like the actual Titanic itself, the technical side of this production had me wanting to jump ship. It all started with one miss of a microphone queue early in the show and then it was all downhill from there. At one point a crewmate up in the ship’s crow’s nest began to sing. I was searching the stage for where he was, but I could not locate him. Then, on comes a spotlight and the character is up high on the balcony to the right of stage. Towards the end of the show, Juan Jackson was on the balcony stage left and I could hear him singing along with the rest of the chorus, yet his entire performance had no light on him at all. There were even more microphone mishaps including one that I felt was unforgiveable. Several bars of Anthony Warlow singing with the full company were left with his microphone off. And there is more, right at the end there was a high pitched buzzing from one of the speakers. Not once, but twice.
The Melbourne Town Hall, as grand as it is, was not the best venue. Due to the cavernous nature of the hall, the sound is just lost. At times, making it hard to catch the incredible sounds of the orchestra and company. It makes me think that the Town Hall was the only venue available at the time. Bad, because I believe the entire cast deserves a better venue to match their incredibly talented voices. But also, good because it means that Melbourne is jam packed with productions at every other venue at the moment.
The score of Titanic is incredible with the orchestra conducted by musical director Stephen Gray, the cast are brilliant, but with only one performance left, I really hope the production team get their act together because this amazing cast deserves better. The audiences deserve better too! I found myself waiting for the errors rather than eagerly anticipating the voices on stage. This is not how a patron should feel at any theatre production.
Cast, you were absolutely wonderful. Production crew, you got some work to do!
Titanic The Musical: In Concert has one performance left tomorrow afternoon at 3pm on November the 6th. Tickets and more information are available via the website here:
Let’s hope it doesn’t sink on you the way that it sank on me.
Photography by Paul Mulligan.