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The company of Encores! Titanic (Photo: Joan Marcus)


By Deirdre Donovan

The Tony award-winning musical Titanic closed out the Encores! 30th anniversary season at New York City Center on a high note.  Under the direction of Anne Kauffman, and with Maury Yeston's brilliant music and lyrics intact, this sung-through concert staging of the original show was utterly breathtaking.

Of course, it helped that Rob Berman, as guest music director, pulled out the stops and assembled one of the largest orchestras ever presented at the Encores! series.  Placed on a platform above the stage, the 30 instrumentalists were always visible, allowing the audience to see them creating their musical magic. 

Act 1 was awash with songs that highlighted the Titanic as the apex of engineering in the twentieth century and "the ship of dreams."  The company number, "Godspeed Titanic" echoed these sentiments, while also embodying the sense of adventure lying in the hearts of the crew and passengers as they sailed toward America.

Other melodies were more intimate in nature. Take "The Proposal," in which the ship's radio operator Harold Bride (Alex Joseph Grayson) agrees to let one of its stokers Frederick Barrett (Ramin Karimloo) send a message to his girl waiting at home. On a livelier note, "Doing the Latest Rag" (Hartley, Bricoux, Taylor and the company) brought the infectious sounds of ragtime to the show. This frothy number was later ballasted by "No Moon," hauntingly sung by the crewman Frederick Fleet (Nathan Salstone) and company. Since the audience knew what was tragically ahead, this song greatly sharpened the drama in the closing moments of Act 1.

Chip Zien, Judy Kuhn (Photo: Joan Marcus)

If Act 1's musical numbers were mostly buoyant and bright, those in Act 2 were of a much darker hue. There's "Getting in the Lifeboat," in which a mother tells her small son that "father will be staying here a while. Let us have a smile." "Still" poignantly reveals the deep love between the elderly first-class passengers, Ida (Judy Kuhn) and Isidor Straus (Chip Zien), when Ida refused her lifeboat seat to remain with her husband on the doomed ship.

There are no real stars in this musical. And there's a reason. Peter Stone (1776 and many others), who wrote the book, made the ship and all the people related to it the leading character. What's more, he focused on the unique tragedy of the Titanic and how it's thematically about survival, courage, optimism, and sacrifice.

Andrew Durand, Samantha Williams (Photo: Joan Marcus)

That said, Chuck Cooper (The Life, Caroline or Change) does a superb job performing the role of Captain E. J. Smith, first conveying his character's pride in being the kingpin of the celebrated ship and then his later horror, after the Titanic crashed into the iceberg. After all, who wants to be remembered in history as the captain who went down, accompanied by over 1,500 crew and passengers, to the ocean's bottom?

Brandon Uranowitz (Leopoldstadt) is ideally cast as the villainous businessman, J. Bruce Ismay, who urges the Captain to take the vessel to dangerous speeds.  Bonnie Milligan (Kimberly Akimbo) is a hoot as the social climbing and celebrity-chasing Alice Beane. And the ever-amazing Andrew Durand (Shucked), last seen as a corpse in Dead Outlaw, is resurrected to play Jim Farrell, who is smitten with Kate McGowan (Samantha Williams, who made her Broadway debut in Dear Evan Hansen).

This operetta-like production is done in a presentational style, with the performers holding scripts in almost every scene. As for a set (Paul Tate Depoo III), it's as minimalist as it gets. But then, all the scenery is in the score, if one really listens carefully.

That said, there was a moment during the show when a simple piece of stage furniture spoke volumes. Although I refuse to be a spoiler, suffice it to say, that when it happened, it was a very bone-chilling moment.

If you missed this show, you missed something special. But take heart, there's always next season to enjoy Encores! concert stagings that revisit the archives of the American musical theater.

Encores! Titanic

Through June 23.

At New York City Center, 131 W. 55th Street, Midtown Manhattan.

For more information, visit

Running time: 2 hours with intermission.