Theatre Review

Character-driven ‘Titanic’ opens Courthouse summer season


West Kingston’s Courthouse Center for the Arts takes on a nautical atmosphere with the Tony-Award winning musical “Titanic,” opening their summer season.

Their new executive and artistic director, Richard Ericson, has taken the sweeping musical, which suffered a variety of technical mishaps on Broadway, and turned it into a much simpler, character-driven production that fits well into the Courthouse space. He also presents the musical without microphones, so you can enjoy the quality of the singers better.

Ericson admits that the story is familiar and everyone knows how it ends. What makes the musical work so well is, simply, the music. There are great songs sung by good singers who let you get inside their characters.

There’s a villain: Bruce Ismay, the owner who pushes the captain to break all records on the maiden voyage. Chris Gleim plays him with a passion that will make you want to “boo” him.

Fourteen actors play 35 characters, with the upstairs-downstairs theme at the center of the tragic ocean voyage. You’ll love the two young actors. Matthew Thompson is on stage throughout the production and serves as the catalyst.

Space doesn’t allow naming all the actors in this smoothly produced ensemble piece, but we must single out Poppy Champlin, who plays the third class passenger who dreams of rubbing shoulders with the first class passengers, and Charles Sweigert, who plays both the Captain and the aging third class passenger, changing character with the switch of a hat.

A little imagination is needed as the ship begins to sink and a lifeboat is lowered from the rafters. The scene is beautifully choreographed, drawing upon your emotions.

As the hour and a half one-act musical draws to a close, the main characters ponder over the eternal question, “What if”, as everybody shares a bit of the blame.

“Titanic,” while sharing many elements of the movie, does not try to be the movie. It is a bittersweet story of class distinction, ambition, responsibility, love and conflict.

And, oh, the beautiful music!

Be warned that there is a brief scene with strobe lights and a couple of large bangs.

It is good to have Richard Ericson, who kept Theatre-by-the-Sea afloat during a transition period, back on the theatre scene. He has a gargantuan task ahead of him, raising money and drawing audiences to his theatre, which has the potential to be one of the leading venues in Rhode Island, and a much-needed addition to the South County entertainment scene.

Before or after the show, be sure to see the excellent art exhibit on the first floor.

“Titanic” continues through July 15. Call 782-1018 for reservations. All seats are up close, making the audience a part of the action. The Courthouse Center is a short ride from Warwick/Cranston, south on Route 2 to Route 138, just past the Kingston railroad station and before URI.


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