Arts Preview: Titanic: The Musical

The rehearsal room is abuzz with a piano warming up and cast members changing into rehearsal skirts in preparation for one of the final rehearsals for the Cecilian Society’s production of Titanic: The Musical, which opens next week. Amongst the busyness and excitement in anticipation of this ambitious production, qmunicate grab a moment to talk to Director, Laura Campbell and Musical Director, Andrew McDivitt, to find out more about the show.

To start off, people kind of know the story of Titanic, we know how it ends- what does this production have new to offer about the story?

Laura: I think now a lot of people tend approach the story of Titanic through the lens of the movie that was so popular, and that we love so much- it’s one my favourite movies of all time. But this show tells the stories of a lot of the people who were actually on board, and it doesn’t cheapen what happened through the love story angle. Although there’s love stories in it, that’s not how it approaches the larger tragedy, it’s very much to do with a lot of little characters. And it’s a strange show in that way because you don’t really have time to get really attached to one key figure, but it’s the effect of the multitude. We have a huge cast so you see this huge number of people represented. Someone said, I think it was Peter Stone who was involved in creating the show, that the main character of the show is the boat, and although that sounds corny, that’s what this show offers: it’s trying to tell the story without reducing it to any one focus point, or any one person or character, but show how it affected third classes, second classes, first classes, and everyone in between.

Contrary to what comes to mind when you think about musicals, there are actually quite a lot of musicals which deal with quite dark subject matter, do you have any thoughts on that?

Laura: One of the responses we’ve faced about this is kind of “oh, is there tap dancing as the ship goes down?” How can you portray something so tragic through what people sometimes view as such a cheap medium as musical theatre? And our response is always that that’s a really narrow minded view of musical theatre because a surprisingly large number of musicals use tragic story lines, and use tragic events and circumstances and put that to music. I think this is trying to challenge people’s perceptions that musical theatre is tap dancing and happy jolly jazz hands all the time, and shows that exploring tragedy through music is a really powerful thing and a really sensitive thing, and it’s not in any way undermining what happened by exploring it that way.

Can you tell us a bit about the music?

Laura: It’s the music that initially captivated me. It’s not a show that’s done very much, but when I listened to the soundtrack I was absolutely pulled in by it, it’s absolutely stunning.

Andrew: With Titanic it’s not your usual musical theatre fare, it’s not really jazzy or anything like that, the instruments are more orchestral, it’s a reduced orchestra basically, we’ve eighteen in the band, so it’s a big sound, for a big ship. It’s almost venturing into opera territory in terms of style. The music is fun in the first act, but it gets more dramatic in the second, it’s a good mix, a bit of everything, and there’s a big dance number as well!

Obviously the Titanic sailing was a big, grand event, how is this reflected in your stage design?

Laura: It’s been challenging. When we initially chose the show, it was a bit of a joke that, well, now we’ve picked the show we’ve got to build a boat for… But we’ve go a steel deck in and we’re having to build that structure so that we can use levels, because our cast is so huge. So what the technical team have been trying to create is more like little icons and images and signals to things that people associate with the Titanic. So things like stained glass windows in first class, and the boiler room are big set pieces, but for the most part it’s a nod to the fact we’re on a ship, and creating the structure without trying to build a bad boat. It’s more abstract than that, it’s more trying to think how we can capture the areas we’re trying to show without doing it in a really naturalistic way.

What makes the show relevant to your audiences today?

Laura: Ultimately the stories being told are stories of hopefulness, and it’s looking at people who each have their own background and their own particular reason for being on the ship, and it’s relevant even through that, because it’s about creating those bonds between people through tragedy. It essentially shows that these barriers that are human made, like class and class structure, are broken down in the face of tragedy and as a show it very much is trying to show that when everything is stripped away, all that people have left is their connection with each other, and their relationships, and they all have equal dignity, and their lives are of equal worth, even though they’ve spent a lot of their lives not being told that. And I think that’s a good thing for people to be reminded of.

Any final words for anyone who hasn’t got their ticket yet?

Laura: I was always going to think that this is something special, but having seen people come in and out and watch little snippets of the show, and seeing those reactions I really do believe this show is going to surprise audiences in really good ways. It will encourage people to look into musical theatre in ways they haven’t done before, it has that balance of what you expect from musical theatre throughout the first act, but then it also shows a cast of amateurs who somehow manage to capture the tragedy that unfolded. These people on stage are getting to do something that amateurs very rarely get to do, and they’re getting to show something that every performer would dream of showing at some point in their career. Particularly for a student, it’s a £10 ticket, I don’t think you’re going to see anything like it in Glasgow.

Titanic: The Musical runs from 25th – 28th February at the Mitchell Theatre.

Get your tickets here.

[Caitlin MacColl- @turningtoaverse]

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