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O.C. Stage | Theater Review

Cast's Pacing Is Not Full Speed Ahead in Musical 'Titanic'

August 24, 2000|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It doesn't matter if you know how "Titanic" ends. Several films, several television specials and a lot of media hoo-ha have given the secret away. The ship sinks.

In every version, there is one ingredient that causes a gasp, a yank, a hidden lowering of the head to wipe away a tear. And that's the magic of the story, now in a touring production at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

The Peter Stone and Maury Yeston musical is simplistic at best. What you can see is a lightweight version of the historical facts. The awe with which the passengers first see the 11-story ship, is thrilling. So are a couple of the final scenes, such as the deck twisting as the Titanic slowly succumbs to its fate.

Director Richard Jones hasn't kept the tempos brisk in this staging, but he knows the tone and color of the scenes within the various class designations of the passengers. Crisper pacing would help build suspense, even though the outcome is without doubt. This company goes to its doom very leisurely.

The main problem with a show like this is that there are no real central figures with which to bond. It's sort of a docu-musical. There are brief moments that grab you, but those moments are not deep enough to make you really care.

The scene, as the deck is tilting dangerously toward South Coast Plaza, when the Strauses are given a rare bottle of champagne, is touching, and beautifully played and sung by S. Marc Jordan and Kay Walbye. It's special, this valentine to marriage. So is the moment when the Lookout, Frederick Fleet, played by Timothy A. Fitz-Gerald, sings his tragic air "No Moon" as the passengers slowly begin to realize that they're in trouble. Fitz-Gerald's touching counter-tenor reading is laden with foreshadowing--he does not see the iceberg soon enough.

*

Other sad and disturbing moments are created by Matthew Stocke's solo as Frederick Barrett, bemoaning the stoker's lot, and later as he refuses to get into a lifeboat because he doesn't know how to row. Joe Farrell's First Officer Murdoch is a restrained characterization of a young man who could never run a tight ship, and William Parry's Capt. Smith is as held-back and forceful as he should be.

Stocke, as the Stoker, has another excellent turn with Dale Sandish's delightfully dense Radioman--he tries to get a wire to England proposing to his girl. William Youmans is a keenly obtuse J. Bruce Ismay, the White Star Line's owner, and Thom Sesma's designer, who didn't figure all the hazards in his plan, is interestingly tortured throughout.

One of the extra delights of this company is Christa Justus' Alice Beane, who can't be restrained in Second Class, and cavorts with all the famous rich people in First. Justus' comic timing and brash delivery sparkles even during the final tragedy and her suffering husband Edgar, played by David Beditz, is her perfect match.

In Third Class, the sad Irish lass Kate McGowen is given fine fire and individuality by Stacie Morgain Lewis, paired well with the kind warmth of her husband-to-be, played with subtlety by Tom Gamblin.

"Titanic" is low on melody, and on digital effects, but the human moments give it distinction and this very able company gives it its best.

BE THERE

"Titanic," Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tuesday-Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Ends Sunday. $28-$62.50. (714) 556-2787 or (714) 740-7878. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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