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Theatre / Titanic

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The Musical of the RMS Titanic's launching and eventual tragic sinking.

Yes, you read that right.

Titanic: The Musical, (or officially just Titanic) was a Broadway musical that opened in 1997 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on the 23rd of April, starring John Cunningham as Captain E. J. Smith, Michael Cerveris as Thomas Andrews, and David Garrison as J. Bruce Ismay. The musical won 5 Tonys including Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical, and ran for two years. A UK production opened in 2018.

The plot of the musical follows the crew and passengers of the RMS Titanic as it makes its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in April 1912. It focuses on no-one in particular, instead choosing to give almost every class of person on the ship a song and or a moment and therefore has no one single protagonist (Other than the Titanic herself, if you will).

The musical is also unique in that the Broadway stage could tilt to simulate the sinking of the ship, and that most of the characters are actually people who were on the Titanic with only a few names changed here and there and a few people who died lived and vice versa.

The relation to James Cameron's Titanic in the same year is probably just coincidental.

The 2023 U.K. tour was filmed, streamed live to theaters, then released online via BroadwayHD on December 15, 2023.

Titanic provides examples of:

  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: A real-life example.
  • Artistic Licence – History:
    • For being a show that got most things right about the Titanic, it does get a few things wrong: One of the lyrics in "Mr. Andrews’ Vision" says "the water poured in a 300-foot gash". It didn't, it poured in several holes along a 300-foot length and this was 1997, they knew by then. It probably just rhymed better. Additionally, Andrews said the exact same thing in A Night to Remember, at the time the most accurate dramatization of the sinking.
    • Both Edgar Beane and Stoker Frederick Barrett die in the musical, but in real life, they lived, despite both being part of groups (Second-Class men and Engineering Crew respectively) that had one of the highest casualty rates. A Frederick Barrett did perish with the ship, but he was married and his wife had given birth to twins shortly before the sinking.
    • Henry Etches is portrayed as the Chief Steward and Andrew Latimer as his subordinate. In real life, it was the other way around. The proshot, however, casts Etches as younger-looking than Latimer.
  • Composite Character:
    • The real Kate McGowan was a middle-aged spinster who died in the sinking, unlike the younger Kate in the show. She appears to have been conflated, whether intentionally or accidentally, with Kate Gilnagh, who was the right age, was really friends with the people the fictional McGowan associates with, and survived the sinking.
    • Jim Farrell boards a lifeboat by claiming to be a seaman. This is how First Class passenger Arthur Peuchen managed to get into Lifeboat 6, Jim Farrell died during the disaster.
    • The Major appears to be based on both Archibald Butt and Archibald Gracie. The major shares his rank and friends with Archibald Butt, while his personality is very similar to Archibald Gracie. Like Archibald Butt, the major is not shown amongst the survivors whilst Archibald Gracie would survive and write a famous book about his experience.
    • Harold Bride is merged with his fellow radio operator, Jack Phillips, who died in the sinking. note 
  • Cool Boat: Takes place on one. It was the largest and most luxurious ship ever made at that time after all.
  • Dark Reprise: Plenty, after the iceberg is struck and things go rapidly downhill.
    • "To Be A Captain" is a short song sung in the first act by First Officer Murdoch about the importance of the position of Captain and how he feels he isn't qualified to take it. In the end, the same song is reprised by Chief Steward Etches as a eulogy for Captain Smith.
    • "Lady's Maid" is sung by Kate McGowan and the rest of the third-class passengers while dreaming of the bright future awaiting them in America. The reprise is sung to Kate by her new fiancé Jim as he tries to convince her to get into the lifeboat and leave him behind with most of the other third-class passengers as the ship sinks.
    • "Autumn" is a sweeping melody about being content with one's life as one grows older. Andrews desperately sings a few lines from the song as water floods the doomed ship, his life's work failing before his eyes.
    • "Godspeed, Titanic" concludes the opening number of the show as the entire cast bids the Titanic a safe journey across the ocean, and also concludes the show itself as the survivors of the disaster watch the ruined ship sink beneath the waves.
  • Dramatic Irony: The Musical! Act 1 of the show largely depicts the hopes and dreams of the passengers and crew as they sail aboard the majestic ship, all the while the audience is well aware of the fate that awaits them all.
  • Ensemble Cast: Rather than focus on one particular member of the ship, the show is focused on multiple members of the crew and passengers. Practically everyone has at least one solo.
  • Epic Rocking: If "In Every Age" and "The Launching", which is made up of roughly five or six songs, are both considered one continuous musical number, then the opening number of the show lasts for about sixteen minutes.
  • Final Love Duet: "Still", a duet between Isidor and Ida Straus. More final than most because they die soon after.
  • Foregone Conclusion: It's a musical about the Titanic, one of the most famous shipwrecks ever.
  • Hate Sink: Bruce Ismay, who’s given Historical Villain Upgrade, is turned into a bullying Jerkass who pressures the captain into speeding up despite everyone else telling him it’s a foolish idea. Upon grasping the seriousness of the situation, Ismay starts to point fingers at everyone except himself, before fleeing in one of the few lifeboats. Ismay's redeeming qualities, such as his guilt after surviving the disaster, are removed from this version of the story, making him much more loathsome than usual.
  • Henpecked Husband: Edgar Beane is the long-suffering spouse of Alice Beane, who'd rather spend her time associating with the rich and famous than spend time with her husband on a leisure trip overseas.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: As is typical for many adaptations of the incident, Bruce Ismay is depicted in a very critical light. He spends most of the first act constantly urging the captain to increase the ship's speed (despite objections from the crew) to generate good press for the Titanic's maiden voyage and to please the wealthy first-class passengers - directly leading to the ship's fatal impact with the iceberg due to being unable to turn in time to avoid it. In reality, there is no evidence that Ismay ever did such a thing, and indeed as the head of White Star Line (whose ships were famed for prioritising luxury and comfort over speed), he would be the least likely person to insist on hastening the voyage.note 
  • "I Want" Song:
    • "Lady's Maid", a song about what the 3rd class passengers want to do when they get to America.
    • "I Must Get on That Ship", a song about, well, wanting to get on that ship.
    • "I Have Danced" - Mrs. Beane enthuses about the lives of the rich and powerful and desiring it for herself (and her husband), while the more practical and cynical Mr. Beane tries to talk her out of dreaming.
  • Job Song: "Barrett's Song" discusses the lead stoker's job shoveling coal in the boiler room of the Titanic and compares it to his previous life as a miner, and how there's no real difference between them.
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "The Launching: I Must Get On That Ship", where the 3rd and 2nd class passengers sing about why they are, well... getting on that ship.
  • Mistaken for Servant: When Captain Smith tries to address Harold Bride, the telegraph operator, while the latter is busy sending out the distress signal to alert other ships that the Titanic is sinking.
    Smith: Radio man, have you managed to reach any ships?
    Bride: (snapping) Can't you see I'm busy?! Go bother the captain!
    Smith: This is the captain!
  • Minor Character, Major Song: Fleet, one of the ship's lookouts (at the time of hitting the iceberg) gets "No Moon".
  • Mood Whiplash: As Bride is frantically sending distress calls to anyone who would listen, screaming his lines - "CQD, Titanic CQD, situation critical, repeat situation critical," - Captain Smith comes up to him asking whether he's reached any ship. An understandably irritated Bride snaps back that he is busy and that the asker should go bother the captain, at which Smith retorts, "I am the Captain!" Bride's resulting panicked snapping to attention would be extremely comical if the situation wasn't so stressful.
  • Motor Mouth: Alice Beane has a Patter Song as she excitedly raves to her Henpecked Husband about each of the First-Class Passengers, doubling as exposition to modern-day audience members who may not necessarily know who each of the then-famous passengers were.
  • The Musical: Of one of the most famous maritime disasters of all time.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Frederick Fleet's reaction when he spots the iceberg. "Dear Mother of God! ICEBERG, STRAIGHT AHEAD!"
    • Harold Bride panics when he realized he's just told the Captain to go bother the Captain, springing to his feet. His earphones are yanked off his head by the force, as he has forgotten to take them off.
    • The complaints about being roused out of bed and being in pyjamas in the Grand Salon dies as a serving tray rolls across the stage due to an (at that time imperceptible) incline, as it hits everyone that the ship really is sinking. This is replaced with a metallic screech in the proshot.
  • One-Steve Limit: Very much averted, as almost every character in the show is named after a real-life crew member or passenger on the ship.
    • The most notable example is the three Kates - Kate McGowan, Kate Mullins, and Kate Murphy - who all meet before boarding the ship and even bond over the fact that they share the same name.
    • Captain Edward "E.J." Smith shares a small scene with one of the ship's bellboys and asks him for his name, only to discover that he is also named Edward.
    • Furthermore, we have John Jacob Astor and John Thayer among the first-class passengers, as well as Frederick Fleet and Frederick Barrett among the crew.
  • Patter Song: "Mrs. Beane (The First-Class Roster)" is a fast-paced exposition song about who the upper-class Titanic passengers were.
  • Pregnant Badass: In some productions, pregnant Kate McGowan physically fights off a seaman trying to get her into a lifeboat, and runs back into Jim's arms.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: "Mr. Andrews' Vision", where Thomas Andrews suffers a nervous breakdown over the design flaw that caused the sinking of the ship, redesigning the blueprints until he breaks off, imagining the fate of those left on the ship until he eventually dies.
  • "Setting Off" Song: The Launching, a name for a collection of 6 songs about the launching of the Titanic that are, in order: "How Did They Build Titanic?", "There She Is", "Loading Inventory", "I Must Get On That Ship", "The 1st Class Roster" and finally "Godspeed Titanic".
  • The Song Before the Storm: "Autumn/Finale" - Autumn is a slow, old-timey song that eventually gets mixed with bits of the previous song "No Moon" about how dark the night is and the fact that you cannot see anything but stars... then the iceberg hits.
  • Quarreling Song: "The Blame", where the Captain (E.J. Smith), one of the designers (Thomas Andrews), and the owner (J. Bruce Ismay) of the Titanic argue about who was to blame for the sinking of the ship.
  • Upper-Class Twit: The young Madeleine Astor is the "Airhead Heiress" version of this trope, and almost runs back away from the lifeboats while the ship is sinking because she accidentally left her precious diamonds behind.
    Marion: And how did you find Paris, Mrs. Astor?
    Madeleine: Luckily, I didn't have to. Jake knew right where it was!
  • Wham Shot: The passengers' complaints about being turned out of bed and dressed in their pyjamas in the Grand Salon stop and everything goes dead silent for about 10 seconds as a serving tray rolls across the stage by itself due to an (at that time imperceptible) incline, as it hits everyone that the ship really is sinking. Panic ensues. The proshot replaces this with an awful bone-chilling screeching metallic noise.
  • "When I'm Gone" Song: "We'll Meet Tomorrow" is a collective version of this, with the soloists being two men (Frederick Barrett and Charles Clarke) singing to their love interests. The cast says goodbye to their loved ones and prays for a reunion even while knowing that they are doomed.