Director John Diedrich’s labor-of-love production of “Titanic,” the 1997 Maury Yeston-Peter Stone musical he has yearned to stage since seeing it on Broadway the year it opened, is a good-looking and beautiful-sounding achievement that nevertheless lacks pizzazz and invention. The ship still sinks, but this production floats no new theories and pushes no creative envelopes.
Story moves between passengers on the first-class upper deck and on the second- and third-class decks, and gathers stories from the captain’s bridge and various ship workers. This whip-around style is entertaining but prevents the audience from really empathizing with any of the characters, making the production a spectacle wherein one hopes the looming iceberg might deliver some action.
But where John Cameron’s film snapped into top gear once the ship began sinking, this stage production enters a void. There is no rushing water, creaking and smashing sound-effects or even panicked passengers, just a split-second lightshow followed by a starry night and yawning silence. There’s not even the screaming of the dying masses — their passing instead described in a few lines by lifeboat survivors.
Despite its flaws, musical fans will be generally satisfied by this by-the-numbers reproduction of the Broadway show, which ran two years. This version again utilizes rectangular hydraulic staging, but the painterly, multi-window sets of the original have been dropped.
Set forces the cast to stretch along the narrow stage, adding to the musical’s stiff direction and choreography (by Jo-Anne Robinson), with players tending to stand stock still, eyes fixed on a distant horizon as they deliver the numerous songs.
If “Titanic” floats in Sydney, it will be due to the buoyancy of the cast’s terrific voices and full orchestral accompaniment of Yes ton’s score. This production is all about the music and the strong ensemble, most notably Joan Carden, Robert Gard and Bartholomew John.