Back in 1997, two “Titanics” were launched: director James Cameron’s Oscar-winning movie blockbuster and the Broadway musical — book by Peter Stone, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston — that won all five Tony awards for which it was nominated.
Most stage sensations eventually get to our neck of the woods, but we haven’t seen much of “Titanic,” the musical, most likely due to its logistical challenges. The show calls for a cast of 40 performers, and occasionally all are on stage at once.
It takes ample theatrical cojones for a community theater to answer this challenge, but the Attic in Santa Ana has picked up the proverbial gauntlet with a magnificent staging of the show inspired by the 1912 maritime disaster that took over 1,500 lives.
The production succeeds principally because of director Kathy Paladino’s supreme skill in ensemble staging. Mini-dramas are transpiring throughout the ship, and all find their way to the spotlight — often during the pandemonium of the sinking.
That the show is a musical doesn’t lighten its power a bit. On the contrary, the visceral drama often is amplified by the one-man orchestra of Stephen Hulsey, accompanying on piano just offstage.
The central conflict is fueled by the characters of the Titanic’s captain (Bill Crisp), the ship’s architect (David Blair) and, especially, the demanding president of the White Star Line (Eric Hindley), whose need for speed precipitates the fateful encounter with an iceberg.
Crisp’s and Blair’s characters go down with the ship, while Hindley’s grabs a seat in a lifeboat garbed as a woman.
The passengers are divided into first, second and third classes and are treated that way, even during the crisis. Steward Randy Calcetas does an admirable job of separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.
Individually, the greatest impression is made by Judy Mina-Ballard as a chatty second-class passenger eager to rub elbows with the first-class folks to the consternation of her merchant husband (Gary Severn). Cameron Murray also shines as a third-class Irishman hoping for better things in America.
Other standouts include Garrett Chandler as a harried radio operator, Rich Wordes and Beverly Crain as an elderly Jewish couple who choose to sink together, and Lane Kunce and Sierra Henderson as billionaire John Jacob Astor and his young bride. Curiously, the “unsinkable” Molly Brown is conspicuous by her absence.
Jim Huffman’s two-level setting works very well as a seagoing backdrop while Victoria Serra’s projections keep playgoers up to date on the action. Serra also flourishes on stage as one of the “three Kates” bound for better times in the USA, joining Sophie Huisken and Brooke Lewis as an animated trio.
The sinking of the Titanic was one of the most singularly tragic events in history and has been revisited cinematically on several occasions. The throat-catching immediacy of the event is captured forcefully in this outstanding production at the Attic Community Theatre.
IF YOU GO
Where: Attic Community Theatre, 2834 S. Fairview St., Santa Ana (enter from Segerstrom Avenue)
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 until Aug. 31
Information: (714) 662-2525; ocact.com