In honor of the 100-year anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, director Jim Crisp has brought the musical of the same name to the Theatre Macon stage. Crisp’s rendition of Maury Yeston’s Tony-winning musical Titanic opened to a packed house on Friday, April 6.
The opening of the show coincides with James Cameron’s re-release of the 1997 blockbuster hit, but people who come to the musical expecting to see Jack and Rose onstage are in for a surprise. There are no characters in the musical who were not actual people on the ship in 1912, and while the writers did take certain liberties—particularly in the cases of the third-class passengers, for whom there are fewer records than passengers in first and second class—they strove to cleave as closely to historical documentation and eyewitness accounts as possible.
“I think it gives a more accurate account than the movie does,” actor Bryson Holloway said. “I think a lot of people aren’t going to expect what they see.”
Holloway plays Thomas Andrews, the architect and builder of Titanic. This will be his ninth production, and he says that the role of Andrews is the hardest role he’s ever had.
“There’s so much emotional involvement,” Holloway said. “Not just my character, but everyone’s, because we’re playing real people, people who really lived through this. You have to have this personal connection.”
Former Mercer professor Bob Hargrove, who appeared in the Backdoor Theatre’s production of Fiddler on the Roof a few years ago, found the historical aspect of the show to be one of the most interesting. Hargrove was able to rattle off several historical facts about his character, millionaire George Widener, and even mentioned that he had been able to look up a picture of Widener’s house.
“I’d never done character research like this before,” Hargrove said, grinning. “To me, it was just neat.”
The show gives a cross-section of the ship, revealing action and characters from every class and every position on board, from the boiler room to the bridge, the cabins to the telegraph room. As director Jim Crisp put it, Titanic (the ship, not the musical) was a “microcosm” of society in 1912 and, in a way, is still a microcosm of the world we live in today. And to pull off such a wide representation of the ship’s passengers, Titanic (the musical, not the ship) employs a huge cast: there are 54 actors. For an intimate space like Theatre Macon, that’s huge.
“Keeping track of everyone can be a challenge,” Crisp admitted (although, during his interview, he bid goodnight to every cast and crew member who passed by name). Crisp said that one of the challenges he faces is trying to keep everyone involved and enthused, to keep them all “in the same boat, rowing together.”
“This is an exceptional cast,” Crisp said. “There’s a tremendous amount of talent in this cast.”
Rick Hutto, who portrays millionaire John Jacob Astor, also said that the cast is “wonderful.”
“Nobody has a small part,” he added. “It’s really unusual to have this much of an ensemble piece.”
The immense cast packs out the small stage, but the little theater somehow manages to convey the feel of a crowded deck. The set employs simple but effective backdrops, making scene changes quick and fluid. Crisp said that the power of the set—and of the show as a whole—lies in what it doesn’t portray rather than what it does, as it invites the audience to create the ship with their imagination, seeing what the characters see. The costumes are lovely, created by Shelley Kuhen who also does the costumes for the Mercer Players performances. Singing together, the cast sounds wonderful. Theatre Macon allowed a small audience to watch Titanic’s penultimate dress rehearsal, and during the ship’s actual sinking, there was audible weeping and sniffing in the audience.
For Crisp, the show represents the “endurance and durability” of the human spirit. This will be his third time directing the show, and he says that it is his favorite of all the shows he has directed.
“There’s something special about this one,” Crisp said. “I think it’s one of the best American musicals, period.”
Show times and ticket prices for Titanic can be viewed on the Theatre Macon Web site. For tickets, call the box office at 478-746-9485.