When the musical Titanic opened on Broadway in 1997, there were many that thought it would go down with all hands, as fast as the legendary disaster whose story it so meticulously chronicles. But it went on to win that year's Tony Award for Best Musical -- and remains to this day to be one of the greatest stagings of a musical I've ever seen on Broadway.
Its London professional premiere at Southwark Playhouse in 2013 (after a number of amateur stagings, which were able to call on vast casts to populate it as I once saw in Stevenage) had to wrestle twice over the memory of what had gone before in terms of production but also, of course, with the James Cameron film version which had opened the same year as the Broadway musical and had long cast 3D images of the disaster unfolding into the public consciousness with the kind of realism that theatre can never match.
Yet theatre and this musical does something even more vivid and astonishing: it plays with our imagination and its score soars and surges ecstatically in our ears and more importantly burrows into our hearts Maury Yeston's stunningly melodic, chorally inspired music filled Southwark Playhouse fit to burst in 2013, and now -- three years later -- it is doing so again in its transfer to the funnel-like shaped Charing Cross Theatre, which feels even more intimate and constrained.
Thom Southerland's production tries to spread its wings a little by having the actors parade through the aisles of the stalls at times, but this production -- bold and captivating in its sheer simplicity and directness -- has no other effects or special reveals, beyond a moment near the end that I won't reveal here to signify the final sinking.
Instead, the show is about the people more than the awestruck, frequently described majesty of the "ship of dreams" that turned into one of a collective nightmare. And thanks to Peter Stone's book, it craftily dovetails character studies of some of the over 2000 people who were aboard (and some 1517 of whom perished) into a drama that embraces the ship's crew from stoker to captain and passengers from first class aristocracy to Irish workers heading for what they hope will be a better future in America.
They are brought to piercing, agonisingly beautiful life by a sublime cast that sing and act it as if their lives depended on it. And of course, in this show it tragically does for those they are playing.
There are too many to name them all, but there are particularly skilful and full-blooded contributions from David Bardsley, Niall Sheehy, Helena Blackman, Shane McDaid, Victoria Serra, Judith Street, Rob Houchen, Sion Lloyd and Claire Machin.
The show is a must-see.