The Other Iceberg Story
After posting the story earlier about the iceberg breaking off from Antarctica, it only follows that I figured I should post something from Titantic. But no, not the movie, but the Broadway musical.
Though the ship had a tragic history, it had a great year in 1997. That was when the film was released and won the Oscar for Best Picture the next year. And it was the same year that the stage musical tale of the story won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
The stage musical is quite good, with a score by Maury Yeston and book by Peter Stone (who wrote the book for, among many other things, 1776.)
This is the segment from the 1997 Tonys, with an edited down sequence of the show's open, trimmed for the TV broadcast. It has three songs that sort of blend into one another, two of which I find so wonderful and moving -- "I Must Get On That Ship" and "Godspeed, Titanic." They're heartbreaking, with emotional and soaring music, combined with such hopeful lyrics sung by people who, alas, don't know what's in store for them.
It's a remarkable stage achievement, being able to pull off this story without the benefit of...well, an ocean, ship and movie special effects. But they do, and with only a touch of simple stage magic and some angled-sets. (One memorable moment: when a food cart suddenly starts to roll across what should be a level ship board, which the passengers horrifyingly realize for the first time means the vessel is starting to tilt.)
There's one other thing that stands out for me from this clip. I remember watching at the time and thinking -- even through small TV speakers with low-end fidelity -- "Yipes, those voices sound stunning." GIven that it was all in mono, and given how poor TV audio is compared to sitting in a stage theater, I couldn't figure out why it sounded so amazing, and thought it was either a false perception on my part, or the audio equivalent of an optical illusion, perhaps the result of the soaring emotion of the score. Maybe there was a reason, but it was beyond me.
I always remembered it, though, and one day mentioned it to a friend. I think it was Mark Evanier. And from what he told me, it turned out that it wasn't an "audio illusion" at all, but that I was right and there was a very real reason for what I heard.
For most Broadway musicals, when they pick the chorus, the people not only have to sing wonderfully, but they also may be called on to dance a little, but also there is a certain "presentation" factor. The reality that, this is a stage show, after all, so appearance is often almost as important as vocal ability. You still have to sing really well, but you also have to look good on a Broadway stage.
In Titanic, however, there are none of the latter restriction. There's little dancing, if any, that I recall. And "young, tall and thin" is not an issue. The chorus -- playing those on board -- are the myriad of passengers, crew, staff and third-class immigrants on board, young and old alike. And many of them are bundled in bulky clothes throughout. So, being Broadway svelte simply doesn't matter. Through the number, but especially as it builds to the crescendo and the camera begins to pan across the multitude, notice that you are not looking at a typical Broadway chorus. Only one thing mattered when they cast it (and many of the diverse roles, as well) -- being able to sing with a glorious voice. And so that's what came through the TV speaker that night. And I think at least some of it should still come through an even lower-fidelity computer speaker, hopefully.
Regardless, it's a wonderful, moving opening number, introduced here by one of the actors in it, two-time Tony winner Michael Cerveris (who plays the ship's designer, Thomas Andrews). And if you ever get to see a revival of the stage show, it's not only very good, but you'll get the full glory of the voices live, compared to most other shows.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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