“…it is only the ship that sinks, because this is a musical that floats blissfully on air and soars” I gushed when reviewing Thom Sutherland’s production at Southwark Playhouse almost exactly three years ago. Returning to it here, I have not changed my mind one tiny bit. The configuration of the theatre is different – conventional proscenium stage – but the ensemble performances are as good and Maury Yeston’s music and lyrics set scenes and tell stories with just as much clarity as before. It is as if Yeston uses the audience’s foreknowledge of the ship’s fate to add poignancy to every song and some of them scale heights of musical theatre that only Stephen Sondheim and a few others have ever reached. Gushing again!
My original review is filed under August 2013, so no need to repeat it. The added pleasure on this occasion was that I sat directly in front of Maury Yeston himself, who appeared on stage for a 30-minute Q&A session afterwards. Aged 70 and a professor of Musicology at Yale University, Yeston seemed completely at home and treated the session as if a masterclass. His words of encouragement to a budding Danish writer who is currently working on a musical tragedy (not that tragedy surely!) were worth noting – “if at first you don’t succeed…” etc, but Yeston himself should know all about that, having completed a musical version of Phantom of the Opera in the 1980s only to be beaten to the gun by someone else. He was not the only one working on a Titanic project in the late 1990s, but he managed to get in a few months before James Cameron.
Yeston did not forget to mention (several times) that Titanic won every Tony for which it was nominated. His two other big Broadway successes have been Grand Hotel and Nine, but he is in London to promote the UK premiere of Death Takes a Holiday, a smaller chamber musical, at this theatre in December. It is an adaptation of an often dramatised supernatural story, first filmed in 1934 and seen most recently as the Brad Pitt film Meet Joe Black. It was good to “meet” Mr Yeston.
Performance date: 26 July 2016