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Saturday September 20th 2014

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Music with Titanic Proportions

By Jennie McKeon

It has been over 100 years since the RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean, but that hasn’t stopped people—history buffs to curious romantics—from devouring all pop culture references to the ship.

While everyone remembers “Titanic” the movie, there was also a well-loved Broadway musical that debuted eight months before in the same year. The musical won five Tony awards including Best Musical.

“The songs themselves are very moving,” said co-director Kathy Johansen. “Near the end when Andrews [Thomas Andrews, the ship designer] realizes he can’t fix the ship, it sounds like he’s gone mad. Or ‘Barrett’s Song,’ another touching moment, when one of the stokers sends a love letter via telegraph.”

Sorry movie fans, there is no fictitious Jack and Rose. Most of the characters are based loosely on real-life passengers.

“It has nothing to do with the film,” Johansen said. “But it has the same ending.”

However, the film’s influence is undeniable—even more so after it was rereleased in 3D.

“I loved the music since it first came out,” said co-director Elizabeth Hall. “I was one of the first ones to buy it on tape and I wore it out.”

Pensacola Little Theatre doesn’t have the space for such a grandiose play, the Broadway production actually featured a tilting stage, but with the help of Coastal Cabaret Ensemble (CCE), you can hear all of the award-winning music.

“It’ll be strictly music in an elegant manner,” said Johansen.

That is, strictly music with vintage photographs and original narration written by Johansen who researched a variety of sources to find the photos and content.

“This is not a Broadway show with all the bells and whistles,” said Hall. “It’s for the history buff or Broadway music lover.”

Most of the cast and crew were personally picked for the production. Andy Davis, the musical director of CCE chose Johansen and Hall to direct the show. The directors then went out scouting voices. Some of the talent was found within CCE and some are singing for a theatre audience for the first time.

Dyanne Upton sings in a church choir that Johansen directs. She said she is “out of my realm,” but relished the idea of singing with professional singers.

“It was never on my bucket list,” the soprano said. “I chose to do it because of the opportunity. Belonging to a small church choir, this opportunity does not come around all the time.”

Upton has sung ever since she was a child as her parents belonged to a church choir.

“We sang in the car—always,” she said.

Upton isn’t intimidated by the professional singers she is harmonizing with, but rather excited to be a part of the production. Though, if it was the typical song and dance musical, she may not have accepted the offer.

“I’m not a theatre person. I’d freeze up,” she said. “In a choir, you’re part of a group. That’s good for me, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it.”

Mark Palmer, a member of CCE, has performed at PLT and Pensacola State College in about 18 productions since 2007.

“It is a little different,” Palmer said of “Titanic.” “It’s a concert version of the full show. The music is fantastic, great numbers.”

Although photographs and narration will help the audience understand the plot, the directors knew that this production was going to be tricky to pull off.

“That is the challenge,” Hall said. “That’s what makes it exciting. How do you convey such a huge story? And then there’s the historical aspect you have to honor.”

What the play does deliver is a different perspective on the historic tragedy, shining light on real-life survivors and victims. People like John Astor IV, of the prominent Astor family, and Isidor Straus, co-owner of Macy’s department store who died alongside his wife Ida.

“There’s the third-class girls, the three Kate’s from Ireland, the Astors,” Johansen said. “Some of them were celebrities in their time. Each has their own outlook of the ship.”

Upton is currently reading “The Dressmaker,” a historical, yet fictitious novel about a dressmaker, who was one of the last survivors to make her way onto a lifeboat. Johansen mentioned the same book in conversation.

Zeroing in on individuals is what will bring the audience back for yet another “Titanic” show, even though there is no happy ending.

“It’s more what I learned about some of the people,” Upton said of her first theatre experience so far. “You don’t know about the dressmakers or the lady’s maid. These are the people you don’t hear about.”

TITANIC THE MUSICAL IN CONCERT
WHEN:  7:30 p.m. Friday, June 29 and Saturday, June 30; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 1
WHERE: Pensacola Little Theatre, 400 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $14-$30
DETAILS: 432-2042 or pensacolalittletheatre.com