Having recently extended its booking period to 13 August at the Charing Cross Theatre, Titanic the Musical was visited last week by Tony Award-winning composer Maury Yeston who came to see the production and talk about the show as well as his upcoming London premiere. Having previously seen the 5-star production at the Southwark Playhouse and the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, Yeston spoke about how the show is "different and deeper now" than the original, stating that director Thom Southerland has "made some strong directorial changes" and that "the performances have all grown".
As a fan of the original paired down revival, he continues to be surprised by audience's reactions to the piece in its new intimate home at the Charing Cross. "I am surprised, but I expect to be surprised. As wonderful as the Southwark production was, this is not that show." Titanic the Musical originally opened at the Charing Cross Theatre on 6 June 2016 to a string of excellent reviews, including our very own five star review. The production extended by one week to 13 August 2016 following the postponement of Radio Days which was slated to originally run in the same venue.
Speaking to Maury Yeston, the composer of musicals such as Nine, Death Takes a Holiday, Phantom and Grand Hotel, about the production, he spoke fondly of the current London revival and the reception that it has enjoyed once again. "The show takes on a life of its own – it's like a ship. There's staff, there's hundreds of people on board working together to create a 'thing' and it takes on a power and potency of it's own, and I think that's what's exciting about it."
Although it won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1997, the sheer size and scale of the original Broadway production somewhat hindered Titanic's ability to be performed all around the world in different types of theatre. The key to making it accessible was to re-assess the scale, which according to Yeston was "the breakthrough".
"What was great about that breakthrough was that people had been doing it very often on a gigantic scale. You needed the orchestra. And then it occurred to us that not every character was absolutely necessary, we could do it with just a very small band, six people believe it or not, and it sounds like they're fifteen or sixteen. We found a theatre far away from New York City and the critics, near Cornell University, and we put it on its feet and the world was ours. It was glorious – absolutely glorious."
In reducing the show to a more manageable size, it was important to try and retain the original power of the music. "The best of art is miniaturization of some kind, to bring this massive thing down to just six people, a violin, a viola, a string bass, a live percussionist and two pianos. The only patches we have are piano and harpsichord, with the string bass you get the richness and resonance, you really do think that you're listening to a symphony orchestra. Once I knew that was there we began to license it."
For the show to be a success in London the key was finding the right production team to make it work. "When I first met Danielle [Tarento] we were talking about things and I said we have a version of Titanic of that scale, so I sent it to her and a few days later she said “we're doing it”. When I came to see it, obviously we know what happened that first time – I don't know how many five star reviews, everyone went crazy. I knew it would go well because I had seen it work. Thom is a brilliant director, one of a kind. He invested so much energy and creativity into it. Danielle is a wonderful producer, and as a team they really get me. They understand musical theatre too. When we went to Toronto the question was it was a 3000 seat house. We simply did the show and it filled the theatre because the music is so big. It completely exploded."
Two years later the production came back to London as part of a wider season at the Charing Cross Theatre, where Thom now sits as Artistic Director. "What we thought would completely overwhelm us was the proscenium thrust, like the theatre we're in now. As it turned out it worked out. That musical potency in a confined space makes you feel like you're on the ship, you're in the show, it just overwhelms you, and I couldn't be happier about it."
Maury Yeston's Titanic the Musical continues to run to 13 August at the Charing Cross Theatre.
Death Takes a Holiday, also composed by Yeston and directed by Southerland will run at the same venue from 12 December to 21 January 2017. Stay tuned for our in-depth discussion with Maury Yeston about this new musical later in the year.