Regional Reviews: Other Regions
After outgrowing their previous spaces, the Sandy venue is the third location for the Hale Centre Theatre in Utah. This location opened in 2017 and reminds me of Lincoln Center or the Kennedy Center due to its opulence and grandeur and how it beautifully incorporates two theatres, a large lobby area, and an outdoor park into a seamless campus-like setting. With stadium seating, so the sightlines are clear no matter where you sit, the larger 911-seat theatre also has an expansive fly space that allows for large set pieces to quickly descend from above.
An abundance of non-stop technical wizardry, an expansive set design, gorgeous lighting, elaborate stage magic, and a large, talented cast makes for in an incredibly impressive and deeply moving production of the 1997 Tony Award winning musical, Titanic.
While just about everyone knows of the fate of RMS Titanic, which sank on its maiden journey in 1912 after hitting an iceberg, Titanic the musical incorporates factual information to give attention to many of the actual passengers and crew who were on board, and a lush, operatic score to focus on the events that led up to the disaster, in which more than 1,500 people died.
Peter Stone's succinct book and Maury Yeston's lush score do an excellent job of weaving together facts and information about the passengers and the ship as the plot goes from the boarding in England to the aftermath of the destruction just a few days later in April 1912. While the majority of the musical focuses on the three men who were the owner, the builder, and the captain of Titanic, it also spends a good amount of time on supporting characters who were based on actual passengers on the ship, including wealthy members of the first class and poor immigrants in third class who are going to America in hopes of finding a better life, as well as several members of the crew.
I've seen about a half dozen productions of this musical and since it's hard to re-create a sinking ship on stage, many of those previous productions veered toward a minimalistic approach. For Hale's production, they pull out all the stops with a multi-layered set design by Kacey Udy that has an expansive section that rotates, along with many individual pieces that rise to form the various decks of the ship and also descend to depict the launch of the lifeboats and the various sections of the boat falling into the ocean. The center section also rises up on one side with its other side folding down to show how Titanic broke in half after the far end was raised up high in the air. There are also a few set pieces, including the bridge and the crow's nest, that descend from above to form an impressive multidimensional stage image. The remarkable design by Udy adds awe and wonder to the production.
The production is double cast, and the actors I saw were all exceptional. With the exception of the trio of men in charge of the ship, the entire cast play multiple roles, which helps to give a sense of the large number of people on board in the various classes as well as the large crew. As Thomas Andrews, the builder of the ship, Keith McKay Evans gives a wonderful sense of a dreamer who is still trying to fix what went wrong with the ship as it's starting to sink. As J. Bruce Ismay, the owner of the ship and the main antagonist of the musical who keeps pushing for the ship to go faster, Quinn Allan Dietlein is perfectly villainous. Ric Starnes is appropriately stoic as Captain E.J. Smith, the responsible man who worked for the White Star Line for many years and planned to retire after this crossing. All three have impressive singing voices and consistent British accents.
The musical also centers on the hopes and dreams of many of the people on board, including a few who are looking for better lives for themselves. These include, Lauren Pope as the headstrong Kate McGowan, Mckelle Shaw as the social climbing Alice Beane, and Kaden Caldwell as Fredrick Barrett, a stoker on the ship. All three excel with clear vocals and distinct portrayals. Caldwell's delivery of both his solo, "Barrett's Song," and the duet he shares with Angel Martinez as the energetic and eager ship's radioman Harold Bride, "The Proposal/The Night Was Alive" are excellent.
Jared Dunn and Michelle Sundwall are wonderful as the devoted couple Isidor and Ida Straus. Ryan Shepherd is very good as Mr. Etches, a waiter for the 1st class passengers. His solo reprise of "To Be a Captain" as the ship is sinking and his fate is known is extremely moving. Josh Durfey, Maxx Teuscher, and Thomas Brandley all do good work as the ship's main officers and the lookout who first spots the iceberg. Durfey is great as the 1st Officer who doesn't feel he's quite ready to take on a ship of his own, and Brandley's "New Moon" solo, as he sings from high above the stage in the crow's nest, is especially beautiful. The rest of the cast deliver clear and warm vocals and distinctive characters.
Dave Tinney's direction is excellent, with just one small quibble. He seamlessly uses the almost constantly moving set design to quickly move us from deck to deck and from one class to the next in a cinematic fashion that gives a wonderful sense to the expanse of the ship. His cast all create identifiable and realistic characters with an appropriate sense of urgency once the truth about Titanic's fate is known. The only small drawback is that some of the comic lines in Stone's Tony winning book are lost due to being rushed. While the show still works, that humor can help somewhat to offset the doom and gloom of the story and to flesh out the characters. While pre-recorded musical tracks are used, they are lush and excellent, and Kelly DeHaan's music direction delivers warm and clear vocals from the large cast.
The creative elements are sensational. In addition to the aforementioned exceptional set design by Kacey Udy, Jaron Kent Hermansen's lighting and video and projection designs are vibrant and gorgeous. I especially like the use of blueprints, archival video, and photographs that are projected on large see-through scrims between the audience and the stage as well as on the video screens behind the last row of seats. The photos of the actual passengers and crew members that are projected on the scrims and screens at the end of the show beautifully honor the legacy of these individuals. The costumes by Dennis Wright are period perfect and lovely, and Michelle Jensen's prop design features many authentic touches, including using replicas of the Titanic china during the dining sequences and an accurate model of the ship that is used at the beginning and end of the show. The sound design by Michelle Ohumukini has a perfect balance between the music tracks and the vocals, and each lyric and line of dialogue is crystal clear.
Titanic is a very moving and emotional journey. With a script and score that beautifully capture the hopes and dreams of the crew and passengers on board the ship, and with an excellent cast, superb creative elements, and crisp direction, Hale Center Theatre's production is a soaring production and a captivating look at a tragic event from over a hundred years ago that still fascinates us to this day.
Also of note: in the corner of the lobby close to their other theatre, the Jewel Box Stage, is a wonderful collection of Titanic memorabilia that I recommend checking out before or after seeing the show.
Titanic runs through April 8, 2023, at Hale Centre Theatre, 9900 South Monroe Street, Sandy UT. For tickets and information, please visit hct.org or call 801-984-9000
Producer: Sally Dietlein