The sniffles and sobs throughout the audience was unlike anything I’d experienced in a theatre. Titanic’s characters get to your soul. Their hope and optimism lets you believe things might be okay. Of course, we know that it won’t be.

That’s what makes StageArt’s Titanic so triumphant. It pulls at your heartstrings with well-rounded characters and elegant music. This is a seriously impressive ensemble, both in talent and size. The twenty actors establish these class-based characters as enthusiastic. They are creating families, careers and affluent futures. You desperately want their dreams to be realised.

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Titanic The Musical debuted on Broadway in 1997, with story and book by Peter Stone, and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, winning five Tony Awards including Best Musical. The story follows a semi-biographical depiction of the people who were aboard the Titanic on its maiden voyage. The chamber version of Titanic was created in 2012 by an original Broadway cast member and the choreographer. This is the basis of the show that StageArt has opened at Chapel Off Chapel.

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Making his Australian debut, Don Winsor is immediately striking as Thomas Andrews, the Titanic’s designer, with clear similarities to Simon Gleeson’s Jean Valjean. Barry Mitchell and Amanda Stevenson as Isidor and Ida Straus performing “Still” – a romantic duet reflecting on their life-long relationship – ensured that if you weren’t welling up already, that your tears would come.

Returning to Titanic, Greta Sherriff portrays a hopeful and earnest Caroline Neville, married to Charles Clarke (Matthew Hyde). Clarke is a second class citizen who doesn’t have the approval of Caroline’s first class father. Hyde performs splendidly with Sherriff, creating a sincere and youthful couple. Jon Sebastian performs a character in J. Bruce Ismay so splendidly, you can’t help but hate Ismay.

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Casey Withoos provided comedic relief in earlier scenes as Alice Beane, then painfully explored a breaking marriage with a desperate Edgar Beane (Harley Morrison). Morrison’s portrayal of a conflicted husband still deeply in love with his wife is familiar and convincing. On the bridge, Paul Batey as Captain E.J. Smith, James Brown as William Murdoch and Timothy Lancaster as Charles Lightoller are powerful men who are painfully aware of their responsibility, these actors working off each other brilliantly. Batey is given room to explore his character’s insecurities and does so with a paternal warmth.

The three Kates – Kate McGowan (Rosabelle Elliott), Kate Murphy (Molly Fisher) and Kate Mullins (Matilda Moran) – lead the third class ranks in terms of story development. Elliott, Fisher and Moran convey starry-eyed, neglected women determined for a fresh start. Their comradery is delightful and it’s clear these three performers will be adding many professional credits to their biographies within the not too distant future. McGowan’s husband-to-be, Jim Farrell (Sam Bennett), plays up her cheekiness and believably portrays their whirlwind romance. Bennett brings playfulness to the pair, yet highlights the depth of the relationship with a resolute protectiveness.

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Joel Granger’s Harold Bride, the Radioman, is vulnerable and caring yet frighteningly aware of the weight of his duty. His voice is gentle and gives a softer edge to the ensemble. Where Granger is gentle, Christopher Southall is daring and sarcastic as Henry Etches, the first class steward. Southall’s presence is commanding and strong throughout. David Irvine gives Frederick Barrett – a young, hard-working man trying to become more serious for his partner – a realistic and heartfelt performance, highlighted during “The Proposal/The Night Was Alive”.

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Alex Thompson takes on a mammoth task portraying seven characters, with Frederick Fleet as his main. Thompson’s spread of roles doesn’t impact on Fleet’s big moment – spotting the iceberg, and leading “No Moon” with an impressive emotional depth. Adam Di Martino has five roles, with Bellboy as his central character. He handled microphone issues admirably, and slid between his roles seemingly effortlessly.

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Act One is 80-minutes, followed by a 20-minute interval before a 50-minute Act Two. Titanic is intense from the moment it starts, and most of the actors remain on stage or visible the entire time. The majority of the ensemble portray multiple characters and Lucy Laurita’s costumes, combined with accents, create an era-appropriate and seamless transition between these roles.

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While effective to create atmosphere and tension as needed, occasionally Giancarlo Salamanca’s lighting was jarring with some blue lights suddenly coming on, rather than fading in. The followspot was occasionally shaky or slightly off, though both of these issues are easily fixed. It’s worth noting the astonishing lighting used for William Murdoch’s (James Brown) final scene. Brown’s performance was already poignant, yet the bright light seemed to suck the air from the space, leaving his silhouette imprinted on your retina for just a moment longer.

Marcello Lo Ricco’s sound mix on the whole is sophisticated and appropriate. Unfortunately, a few microphone cues were missed on opening night, but hopefully these will be rectified in further performances. The music included a quartet placed within the set the entire show, allowing for the musicians to be incorporated into the story at times. Led by conductor and music director Kent Ross, the band also includes keyboard and percussion. While the band are playing this beautiful score, projections feature on the back wall of the stage, showing times, dates and an outline of the ship. This helps add depth to the relatively bare space.

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The set and props are minimal – this isn’t a show that faffs about with gadgetry and excessive ‘things’ – to allow for the actors and music to shine. The set is a wooden slanted floor, and the props are limited to multiple-use items such as suitcases, life preservers and chairs. The use of the chairs in particular is incredibly clever. Rhys Velasquez’s choreography reflects this need for minimalism, though upon reflection you realise just how intricate some scenes are. The entire theatre space is used effectively throughout the production.

Director James Cutler has certainly raised the bar again for StageArt productions with Titanic. This creative team has constructed a truly pristine and powerful production. It tells a formidable story of potent hope followed by utter anguish. It’s difficult to describe or imagine the depth of the destruction, but StageArt’s production of Titanic certainly makes you feel it as much as possible.

I’m rarely convinced when I’m told to “take tissues”. However, be prepared to have your heart broken in a beautiful and emphatic way when you visit Titanic. StageArt’s Titanic presents the legend of the Titanic voyage in a way you’ll not forget anytime soon.

titanicminiTitanic The Musical is on at Chapel Off Chapel until 24 July 2016.

Times: Tuesday – Sunday, 7.30pm;Saturday & Sunday, 1.30pm matinee 

Bookings: 8290 7000.


Photo Credit: Belinda Strodder