Titanic ensemble deserves praise

Because it requires a huge cast and complex physical production, many community theatre groups have avoided Titantic - The Musical like a mid-sea iceberg. Not Joe Cascone of the Civic Light Opera Company.

A longtime Titanic aficionado, he saw the original Broadway production and determined he wanted to bring his own interpretation of the show to audiences at Fairview Library Theatre. Last Thursday night that dream was realized with a triumphant opening.

While very much an ensemble piece, several star performers emerge. Two in particular deserve special attention as they are making their debuts with the company and hopefully they will return in future productions.

As Frederick Barrett, Cory Doran gives a movingly detailed performance and makes an immediate impression with the Stoker's Song early in Act 1. Later, he shares a duet with the production's other newcomer, Scotty Newlands. Playing radio operator Harold Bride, Newlands is not only a terrific singer he is also a fine actor making the most of his tense scene in Act 2 as he frantically tries to make contact with the one ship that might have been able to save many of the passengers.

Cascone tops all previous directorial efforts, keeping the pace tight and the action moving. He also conducts the 18-piece orchestra, generally balancing it with the singers. With the orchestra on stage as well as the large cast of characters things can get a little crowded and this sometimes makes the blocking a bit awkward. However, many scenes play better here than they did in the Broadway production.

Maury Yeston's score is a marvel of modern theatre composition. The music is grandiose, befitting a musical of such epic proportions. The lyrics effectively convey plot and character. Highlights include the hymn-like Godspeed Titanic; Lady's Maid revealing the third-class passengers' dreams of a better life awaiting them in America; and the lively ensemble Doing the Latest Rag, which gives the show its one true dance number, nicely choreographed by Larry Westlake.

Westlake also gives a great performance as the long-suffering middle-class husband Edgar Beane. Other standouts include Peter Loucas as the architect Thomas Andrews, Bob Deutsch as the determined Captain E.J. Smith and David Haines whose villainous portrayal of the ship's obsessive owner Bruce Ismay, while a little fictitious in dramatization, gives the audiences someone to blame for the catastrophe.

Also of note are Julie Lennick as the social-climbing second-class passenger Alice Beane and Mike Arseneault as First Class Steward Henry Etches, representing the protocol of servant to master at the turn-of-the-century.

The entire ensemble deserves praise for performing the complex book and score with such assurance. In the end, however, it is thanks to Cascone's vision that Toronto finally has a chance to see this Tony award-winning musical.

Titantic - The Musical at the Fairview Library Theatre, 35 Fairview Mall Dr., until Feb 18. Evening performances are Wednesdays at 7 p.m., Thursdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available at www.civiclightoperacompany.com or by calling 416-755-1717.

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