Sail on! Sail on…great ship. Godspeed, Titanic. (in concert!) In a bold and ambitious move, and an unprecedented trend in the area’s community theatre scene, The Heritage Players launch the first “in-concert” musical production on their stage of the 2018 season with their floating city Titanic: In Concert. Directed by David Jennings with Musical Direction by David Zajic, this “concert-plus” experience is the ship of dreams for any community theatre. With a stellar orchestra, an astonishing cast, and sublime swells of music that do Maury Yeston’s score a superb justice, Titanic: In Concert is a must-see this season.
Praises cannot be more highly sung than for David Zajic and his 25-piece orchestra. Playing with superior quality, there is a sound of soul-searing perfection wafting directly out of the orchestral pit before the show even officially gets underway. (So much so that the audience gave a rousing ovation for the orchestra and David Zajic as the conductor after the company had taken their bows and departed the stage.) Surging forth with great swells of emotion, the orchestra* creates an extraordinary and professional sound that defies description. Generating deep evocative tones that carry forth the vocal talent in this production the way waves carry seashells to the shore, this phenomenal orchestra under the direction of their visionary leader, David Zajic, is by far, hands down, the best orchestra ever to grace the pit of a community theatre production of a musical.
Director David Jennings has taken it upon himself to expand the “in concert” experience. Giving audiences more than just performers lined up in front of a rows of microphones, Jennings creates a delicate framework, using simple set pieces and subtle hints at costuming to achieve his own visionary dream with the cast and with the production. The striking use of arranged blocking during certain numbers further illustrates the breakdown of the class structure built into Titanic. One of the most harrowing yet astonishingly beautiful moments that Jennings fabricates is during “Finale: Reprise— In Every Age” where the upper class, huddled in their thick, gray, warming blankets stand in a dazzled line, with the sounds effects of splashing and shouting in the background and the projection fading to nothing but the frozen image of still water reflects behind them. Jennings’ use of still-frame images, mostly historical illustrations of The Titanic, are yet another way to inform the audience as the plethora of characters shift throughout various locations on the ship.
The ensemble of 25 are magnificent. Each taking up a role, be it principal or passing, and each donating their remarkable vocal talent to the glorious sounds that erupt from this cast during the larger numbers like “Opening Finale/Godspeed, Titanic”, “What a Remarkable Age This Is”, “No Moon #2”, and the ultimate finale. Strongest as one unified voice, with sounds singing to the heavens, when this cast sings as one it readily evokes great waves of emotions throughout the audience.
Despite its “In Concert” nature, Titanic has two striking examples of character-couples whose acting far surpasses anything expected in a minimally blocked and staged concert rendition of a musical theatre show. Ida and Isidor Strauss (Debbie Mobley and Thomas C. Hessenauer) are one such couple, gently sharing the decades of their marriage in simple caresses, chaste glances, and carefully articulated dialogue that is laid thick with their accent, but balanced delicately so as to be understood. Mobley and Hessenauer’s characters are of the 1st Class Tier, and despite carrying themselves with decorum and poise, you never feel off put by their airs, because they aren’t putting any on as they stroll through their scenes. Sharing their duet, “Still”, both Mobley and Hessenauer display their vocal prowess, fully enveloping the audience in their leg of the story through sublime vocal harmonies.
The other such couple, carried primarily by the female half of it, are the 2nd Class Beane husband and wife. Though the character of Edgar Beane (played with delightfully dry wit and sharp sarcasm by Vincent Musgrave) is oft overlooked as critical, it’s the way he takes all of Alice’s squawking, and what he eventually throws back at her by way of song, that really moves people. Lisa Pastella, a radiant and resplendent soprano who is overflowing with plucky character in the role of Alice, is a show-stealer. Drenched in personality, Pastella all but glows with enthusiasm, balancing her comedic quips with her magnificent voice. Given several solo opportunities to emotionally belt through numbers like “I Have Danced” and “The Glinka #1/First Class Roster”, Pastella more than proves her invaluable positioning among the passengers of Titanic.
Extraordinary in his own belting, Jim Knost— first as 3rd Officer Pitman and later as Etches— delivers a stunning performance during his solo features. Fully present in his being on the ship, Knost uses his warm, lusty voice to peel through the “Loading Inventory” and “Pitman’s Announcement” and later puts that same decadent voice to sublime purposefulness during “Wake Up, Wake Up” and in a sobering fashion during “To Be a Captain.” Matching him blow for blow is the furiously cocky and stridently surefire Ismay (Rick Robertson.) Though most of Robertson’s vocal work is achieved in the second half of the production, his knavery builds at a slow burble through the entirety of the first act, with a rich sense of rooting himself in the character’s arrogance and self-importance. When he vocally erupts during “The Blame” a trio directed primarily at Mr. Andrews (Daniel Plante) with shared cut-ins by Captain E.J. Smith (John Gary Pullen), Robertson’s Ismay is frightening, bordering on terrifying.
Plante, who has the vocal understanding of Andrews, if not the full character depth (though such a depth could readily be achieved if the production were being treated as such), is earnest in his approach to the architectural designer. Opening the show on a strong and encouraging note with his rendition of “In Every Age”, there is something quite shocking about how he blasts Ismay apart during “The Blame” and later self-destructs during “Mr. Andrew’s Vision.”
Fair of voice, Fleet (Paul Kennedy) has his moment during “No Moon #1” at the top of the deck, his crystalline voice as solid as the iceberg which they’re about to hit. Hartley (Joey Light) too has his moment, much like Kennedy’s, during “Autumn” a somber and harrowing experience to hear. Other pleasant voices include that of Sharen Camille, Robyn Bloom, and John Day, playing Caroline Neville, Charlotte Cardoza, and Charles Clarke, respectively. Even the Bellboy (Johnny Dunkerly) finds a moment to stand out, one among dozens, as too do Keith G. Field as 2nd Officer Lightoller and the too-young David Hill, playing 1st Officer Murdoch. The latter of the two are often paired with the Captain on his bridge and blend their sounds accordingly.
There’s fiery spirit with meandering Irish lilts aboard Titanic too. Rogue Kate McGowan (Amy E. Haynes), Kate Mullins (Kelly Rardon), and Kate Murphey (Alyssa Wellman Houde) are the mighty fighting Irish, along with Jim Farrell (Mark Lloyd) and Barrett (Stephen Foreman) aboard the ship of dreams. Haynes, Rardon, and Houde lead the ensemble into a rousingly passionate rendition of “Lady’s Maid”, which is truly the song of dreams, while the cute dynamic shared between Haynes’ character and Lloyd’s character is simply humorous and precious. Stephan Foreman, as the working class coalman, holds his own in several instances throughout the production, but none so noteworthy as in the duet he shares with the dulcet-toned Stu Goldstone, playing Radioman Harold Bride. Foreman and Goldstone tackle “The Night Was Alive/The Proposal” with heartfelt gusto and raw emotions that truly ensconce a sense of their character’s dreams right into the words of the song.
A remarkable and rare experience, this “concert plus” Titanic: In Concert is a full theatrical experience. Board the ship of dreams; hear the ensemble in all its glory. It took Titanic two hours and 40 minutes to sink, this musical runs shorter than that in both its run time and in as many performances; do not miss your chance to experience it.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
Titanic in Concert plays through February 18, 2018 at The Heritage Players in the Rice Auditorium of the Spring Grove Hospital Campus— 55 Wade Avenue in Catonsville, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance online.
To read the interview with Director David Jennings and Musical Director David Zajic, click here.
* The Titanic Orchestra features the following instrumentalists:
Flute & Clarinet Flute, Piccolo, Alto Flute Cello
- Matt Elky * Mari Hill * Jen Retterer
Clarinet Oboe & English Horn Horn
- Ann Quinn * Mary Haaser * Pam Mesite
- Paul Ocone * Allyson Wesley
- Dan Longo
Trumpet Trombone Bass
- Carl Reynolds * Zach Nelson * Al McLaine
- Randy Whittenberger * Eugene Bayer
Violin Viola Keyboard
- Natalia Vladimirova * Kyle Gilbert * Mary Beth Bunting
- Jon Louthian * Kate Mankowski
- PJ Manganaro * George Hathaway
- Alison Candela
- Shari Rolnick
- Naomi Chang Zajic
Percussion Bass Clarinet
- Brendan Betyn * Karen Hopkinson