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Theater Review: "Titanic"

Steven Glaudinim Norman Large and Robert J Townsend in Titanic
Photo credit:
Ken Jacques

The sinking of the “unsinkable” Titanic in 1912 is an event almost too big and awful to wrap your mind around, let alone to consider depicting it onstage in a musical.

But Peter Stone (story and book) and Maury Yeston (music and lyrics) wrote “Titanic” anyway, and though it was not a commercial success – and had technical problems like a ship that wouldn’t sink on cue – it won five Tonys in 1997.

Moonlight Stage Productions brings “Titanic” to the Moonlight Amphitheatre through Sept. 3, directed by Larry Raben and featuring Moonlight’s producing artistic director Steven Glaudini as ship’s owner J. Bruce Ismay (the villain of the piece).

It’s a massive undertaking, requiring 38 cast members and 26 musicians in the pit and lots of scene changes.

In the years since 1997, technology has advanced enough to allow “Titanic” to be presented with fewer sets (the main one, a tri-level deck view) and more realistic projections (including the sinking of the ship – one of the most effective scenes in the show).

So many characters dash through (there were more than 2000 people on board) that it’s impossible even to identify most of them.

But several standouts can be cited among the ones we do meet:

Richard Bermudez, with a lovely voice if a strange shoveling style as stoker Frederick Barrett; Michael Parker as the radio operator (“You can’t be a radio operator and remain a Christian,” he says); Bryan Banville, most effective as Lookout Frederick Fleet, who sees the disaster coming; Robert J. Townsend, as designer of the ship Thomas Andrews, with a poignant scene toward the end as he tries to parse out what went wrong.

Musically, the men do most of the heavy lifting here, and this is a particularly fine collection of excellent male voices.

But Christine Hewitt also amuses as Charlotte Cardoza, venturing into the men-only sanctuary of the first-class Smoke Room. Katie Sapper and Scott Arnold are charming as passengers Kate McGowan and Jim Farrell, making an onboard connection.

Larry Raben (who last directed “Catch Me If You Can” at Moonlight) has a good handle on this massive show, and has the forces and voices to make it work. A special shout-out to Elan McMahan, directing her 51st show at Moonlight and the biggest yet.

Kudos to Glaudini and the Moonlight forces, including the tech team: Jean-Yves Tessier on lighting, Jim Zadai on sound and Jonathan Infante on projections, and the theater’s intrepid costume coordinators Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd and Carlotta Malone for their fine work.

“Titanic” is no comedy, but this is a rare chance to see a show of this size. And this production will definitely keep your eyes and mind engaged with all the goings-on and people.

The details

“Titanic” plays through September 3, 2016 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre,

1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista.

Wednesday through Sunday at 8 pm

Tickets: (760) 724-2110 or www.moonlightstage.com