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25 September 2012


Titanic The Musical
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Tuesday 25th September 2012

Maury Yeston's musical is a relatively modern choice for CAODS to take on, and what more poignant year to perform it than this, a century since the tragedy struck.  Set mostly on board the ship itself, covering the few days from launch until the survivors board the Carpathia, this emotional musical won five Tony awards for its 1997 original Broadway production but has not yet been professionally produced in the UK.  The music is hauntingly beautiful throughout, but the book is achingly sentimental.  With dialogue full of hindsight the characters begin to feel a little contrived, despite being almost entirely based on real passengers and crew members.

CAODS have sourced the most beautiful costumes for their populous cast spanning a vast range of ages.  The crew's uniforms match one another well in colour and style, the first class passengers literally sparkle with elegance and the third class passengers look comparatively poor while displaying enough range of colour and style to create a visually interesting ensemble.  The set is fairly minimal, necessary with such a numerous cast, but it suits the piece well.  A dark metallic backdrop remains for each scene, with additional furniture to represent the various locations on board - the bridge, radio room, Grand Salon.  The addition of a central platform for the Grand Salon helps to add height, but also works well to switch in the interval for a sloping version after the ship starts to sink.

Mick Wilson leads the crew as Captain E. J. Smith in a confident performance of this heroic character.  John Sullivan as Shipbuilder Thomas Andrews, believably distraught and confused in the failure of his achievement, and Barry Hester as Chairman of the White Star line J. Bruce Ismay, demanding and arrogant, both join him in the engaging "The Blame" number in Act 2.  A consummate performance from Diana Baker as Alice, second class passenger with ambitions of grandeur whose knowledge of everyone else's business makes her a perfect narrator through the introductory opening.

It is the youth of the society however who really stand out among this cast. The Kates, played by Jill Gordon, Jess Broad and Helen Meah, are exemplary. Sparklingly pretty singing voices, relaxed delivery and even decent attempts at Irish accents make these three girls eminiently watchable. Rob James plays the charismatic stoker Fred with rough appeal and a strong voice. The performance highlight though belongs to the outstanding Dan Looney, playing the small but pivotal role of radioman Harold Bride. A lovely smooth singing voice and assured delivery make for a charming interpretation.   Most effective however is Dan's ability to remain entirely in character throughout his time on stage, whether speaking or not - certainly not a skill boasted by all of the performers in this show, and an achievement that makes his performance eye-catchingly good.

CAODS' group singing is one of their strengths, and the ensemble pieces here are particularly rousing, especially the emotive final scene.  This show has clearly affected each member of the company, as well it might when learning so much about the affecting stories of these real people.  Carefully handled with sensitivity, the society should be proud to mark the centenary of this historically tragic incident with such a touching production.

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