When Titanic: The Musical was preparing for its world premiere on New York’s Broadway in April 1997, the producers were having a surprising problem -“ particularly surprising considering the historic story they were dealing with.
Despite all the best efforts of the technicians on the show, the one thing they could not achieve was making the boat sink. It just sat there on stage, perfectly afloat.
By opening night, every kink was ironed out as the mighty ship sank on cue, and Titanic opened to rave reviews. It was later to win five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
As director-performer John Diedrich prepares to commence rehearsals in the coming weeks on the new Australian production of Titanic: The Musical, he says he doesn’t envision any similar problems with his latest theatrical undertaking.
I think our set design is more clever than what they did on Broadway, Diedrich says. Our sinking of the ship is a different design by Dale Ferguson, and presents a more visually incredible experience.
The hydraulics of the floor which they used on Broadway could only lift to a certain height. What we are doing can lift it higher and put it at a tilt. It is a big engineering feat and while I am sure it is not going to be all smooth sailing, I think it will be all right.
Titanic: The Musical features an ensemble star cast playing real-life characters who were aboard the RMS Titanic during its 1912 maiden voyage. Opera diva Joan Carden is joined by Hayden Tee, Bart John, Nick Tate, Katrina Retallick, Derek Metzger and Leonie Page.
While the stage show played for two years on Broadway, it was the epic proportions of the James Cameron film, which opened six months later, that hijacked the tale as the definitive version for all time.
Diedrich says he is often greeted with the response that a musical about the Titanic is a preposterous idea, until he explains the show was around long before the movie arrived on the screen.
Think of it as Les Mis without the flag, he laughs. It has a beautiful sweep to the first half and then reaches dramatic heights in the second.
When you analyse what the piece is about -“ people’s hopes and dreams and going off for a new life, and then the sense of loss -“ you realise it really is perfect fodder for a musical.
Titanic: The Musical opens 26 October at the Theatre Royal. Bookings on 1300 795 012 or www.ticketek.com.au.