Well, Mrs K and I finally got off the sofa and out the door to attend a show. We headed up to Noblesville to see a second night performance of Titanic -The Musical with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and a book by Peter Stone that opened on Broadway in 1997. It won five Tony Awards including Best Musical. The Belfry’s version is directed by Ryan T. Shelton (assisted by Rhonda Tinch-Mize), with musical direction by Deb Farmer. The technical director is Jim Williams. Costumes are by Norma Floyd and her crew.

Titanic follows the familiar tragic story of the ill-fated maiden run of the ‘unsinkable’ ship. It’s 1912 voyage was meant to be a vanguard to a new age of travel – sleek, strong, dependable. The story’s mix of characters from the hopeful immigrants to the luxuriating idle rich, the dutiful crew members to the arrogant designer and company chairman, from those of lofty dignity to those of simple hope all show us the various effects the tragic mishap rendered.

Josh Gibson (Lightoller), James H. Williams (Murdoch) and Daniel T. Shockley (Capt. Smith) as the bridge crew of Titanic

The Belfry’s Titanic is nothing if not an ambitious, challenging and at times, overwhelming endeavor. Mr. Ryan leads a cast of 50, with the help of a running crew of about 35 or so, and the musical accompaniment of Ms. Farmer’s 8 musicians, through this period costumed tale of hope and tragedy. It is a production that is actually too big for the Belfry’s stage and I alternated between thoughts of “Wow, Ryan – what you have done!” and “Oh Ryan, what were you thinking?” The director told me before the show that he had seen a production at Myers Dinner Theater and had been inspired by the experience. I do not doubt that – inspiration had to be an ingredient in taking on such a huge endeavor. Ryan’s final product certainly works hard to succeed as a community theater production.

Brittany Davis and Evan Elliott as 2nd class passengers Jim Farrell and Kate McGowan

For me, the best facets of the show are the amazingly talented voices. By far, the greater majority of the individual parts are well sung. There is an unusually large group of fine vocalization in this show – with memorable turns by Daniel Shockley (Captain Smith), James H. Williams (1st Officer Murdoch), Brian McCarley (Radio Operator Bride), Rob Lawson (Stoker Barrett), Mark Tumey (Chief Steward Etches), Thom Brown (Ismay), Doug Peet (as ship designer Thomas Andrews), Duane Leatherman (Strauss), Robin Peet (Alice Beane), Lindsay Davis (Caroline Neville), Brittany Davis (Kate McGowan), and young Simon Lynch (Cabin Boy/Lookout). All have wonderful parts as soloists or in duets or trios. The stage is filled with strong voices – an amazing thing in such a large cast of amateurs.

Contrastly, only about half of the full chorus work is of the same quality. This is understandable as there are some very complicated ensemble arrangements in some of the big numbers which simply do not hit the mark as well as the smaller groupings do. But some ensemble numbers are stunning in their power – such as the churchy choir number “Lord Lift Me Up”, as well as the full cast finale. The main thing that I noticed was that the entire huge cast was engaged in every number, caught up in every scene and working hard to be in the right spot physically and emotionally at all times. Very admirable.

Young Simon Lynch wowwed the audience with his solo as  the Lookout

There was also some fine comic work to point out – Robin Peete as star-struck and ambitious 2nd-class passenger Alice Beane was fun to watch as she tried to mesh with the privileged 1st-class passengers. And Daniel Shock was spot-on as the tiresome tale teller known simply as The Major. Strong dramatic portrayals were noted in performances by Mark Tumey as the Chief Steward and also by Brittany Davis as the young and spunky Irish immigrant Kate McGowan. Ms. Davis’ spotlight number “Lady’s Maid” (along with Becca Wenning and Abby Morris and eventually with a good deal of the cast) was a real bright spot in Act One. Also Doug Peet’s “Mr. Andrew’s Vision” was noteworthy in it’s strength and emotion.

Additionally, a tribute must be made to Norma Floyd and her crew of costumers. With 50 people playing at least 75 characters, there are over  100 costumes, including posh dresses for the rich ladies, coats, hats, uniforms, worker’s clothes – the list is nothing short of stunning. The costumes we saw were completely and thoroughly wonderful! They were definitely one of the many accomplishments that this production company can be proud of.

Kelly BeDell and Ken Christie as John and Madeline Astor

All that said – all the incredible work done on stage with voices and characters and costumes could not sway me to think that this story, this familiar story of stirring hopes and tragic loss, lent itself well to this stage. Understand – this is a very personal opinion on my part. I am sure  very many people who come to see this production will find the experience to be moving and complete. And this comment is by no means a reflection on the efforts of the director and his cast and crew. But my perception of the book (especially as a community theatre offering) is that  it is just so big, so ambitious – it is almost impossible to do a completely full-blown, all-bases-touched production. Mr. Shelton and crew give it their all however and the result is indeed admirable and worth-while.

Tamara Rulon, Clark Rulon and Geoff Lynch as 1st class passengers Marion, Jack and John Thayer

Titanic – The Musical continues at The Belfry (10690 Greenfield Ave in Noblesville) weekends through February 26th. Call (317) 773-1085 for reservations or visit online at http://www.thebelfrytheatre.com/ .

(Corrected 2/12/12)

(Photos added 2/17/12)

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