Reworked 'Titanic' sets sail in well-sung Chicago revival

  • Griffin Theatre Company's revives a chamber version of the musical "Titanic."

    Griffin Theatre Company's revives a chamber version of the musical "Titanic." Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

  • Matt Edmonds plays the son of a grocer in love with an aristocrat played by Laura McClain, of Grayslake, in Griffin Theatre Company's revival of the 1997 musical "Titanic" by composer/lyricist Maury Yeston and writer Peter Stone.

    Matt Edmonds plays the son of a grocer in love with an aristocrat played by Laura McClain, of Grayslake, in Griffin Theatre Company's revival of the 1997 musical "Titanic" by composer/lyricist Maury Yeston and writer Peter Stone. Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

  • Naval architect Thomas Andrews (Eric Lindahl, left) reveals the dire circumstances facing the stricken ship to White Star Line chairman J. Bruce Ismay (Scott Allen Luke, second from left), wireless operator Harold Bride (Royen Kent, second from right) and Captain Edward J. Smith (Peter Vamvakas, right) in Griffin Theatre's revival of the musical "Titanic."

    Naval architect Thomas Andrews (Eric Lindahl, left) reveals the dire circumstances facing the stricken ship to White Star Line chairman J. Bruce Ismay (Scott Allen Luke, second from left), wireless operator Harold Bride (Royen Kent, second from right) and Captain Edward J. Smith (Peter Vamvakas, right) in Griffin Theatre's revival of the musical "Titanic." Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

 
 
Updated 11/2/2014 9:46 AM

Everything we need to know about the characters embarking on the voyage of a lifetime in Griffin Theatre's gloriously intimate "Titanic" we read in their expressions during the opening numbers. It's all there: the yearning, anticipation, optimism and awe at encountering for the first time the "ship of dreams" -- a testament to the marvels of modern engineering and man's enduring hubris.

Their enthusiasm isn't just palpable, it's infectious. We're immediately invested in the Irish immigrants dreaming of new lives in America, in the young couple whose love trumps their class differences, in the perceptive stoker and the courageous wireless operator.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

With kudos to Scott Weinstein for his canny, detailed direction and Elizabeth Doran for her fine music direction, much of the credit rests with the cast. Their vivid performances drive this moving, beautifully sung production which -- in one scene, one song even -- packs a more profound emotional wallop than James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster in its entirety.

The musical by composer-lyricist Maury Yeston and writer Peter Stone premiered the same year as Cameron's film. But the Tony Award winner lacked the film's staying power. A rumored 2014 Broadway revival fizzled. But Griffin's stellar revival, the first production of a 2012 chamber version by original cast member Don Stephenson, might turn the tide.

The scaled-down approach suits the character-driven show. But it doesn't diminish the richness of Yeston's lush, insistent score or the power of Stone's dialogue. Nor does it dilute the show's well-articulated themes of pride, greed and class. Rather, the approach shifts the focus to where it belongs, on the inhabitants of this floating metropolis bound for New York City from Southhampton, England.

First aboard is Fred Barrett, played by Justin Adair, a winning performer from Woodridge. A stoker in the ship's boiler room, he's befriended by Royen Kent's Harold Bride, a lonely young telegraph operator. The wonderfully droll John Keating provides comic relief as butler Henry Etches and Neala Barron earns laughs as Alice Beane, a second-class passenger desperate to rub shoulders with the upper crust. Her efforts are indulged by her husband Edgar (a devoted Jake Mahler).

Laura McClain, a lovely singer from Grayslake, plays aristocrat Caroline Neville, who elopes with commoner Charles Clarke (the well-matched Matt Edmonds, from Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's "The Last Five Years").

Also on hand for Titanic's maiden voyage is J. Bruce Ismay (Scott Allen Luke), the overbearing chairman of the White Star Line who insists Captain Smith (Peter Vamvakas) push the ship to its limits. Eric Lindahl, another fine singer, plays naval architect Thomas Andrews, who narrates the ship's final moments in wrenching detail.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.