Titanic the Musical at Plaza Theatre’s Dudley Hall in Cleburne

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Titanac the Musical onstage at Plaza Theatre Co.
Plaza Theatre Company

“Titanic” is an award-winning musical, featuring music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and a book by Peter Stone, and based on the loss of the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic. Over 1,500 lives were lost when the pride of the White Star fleet sank on its maiden voyage from Liverpool UK to NYC on April 15, 1912. Plaza Theatre Company in Cleburne has a wonderful production of one of my longtime favorite shows, directed by Jay Lewis, onstage now at their Dudley Hall venue, 305 S. Anglin Street.

Disclosure: As the publicist for Dallas Summer Musicals (1994-2014), I had the pleasure of seeing Titanic on Broadway shortly after it opened in April of 1997. The Broadway production won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and was totally enthralling. I was excited to learn DSM would bring the show to the Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas Oct. 5-17, 1999, and loved being able to watch nearly every performance of this tragic, but beautifully sung tale. The talented cast for the national touring company was led by Michael Cerveris, Victoria Clark, and Brian d’Arcy James.

It had been a long time—over 20 years– since I saw “Titanic” onstage, so I was thrilled to have an opportunity to see this beloved musical again. I especially looked forward to seeing this majestic musical—with its powerful music and timeless stories—performed in an intimate, in-the-round space like Dudley Hall in Cleburne. We had enjoyed Plaza Theatre’s recent production of “Pollyanna,” and knew they were doing good things there and at the Plaza Main Street Theatre.

Plaza Theatre Company’s “Titanic”

But I was literally blown away by the quality of Plaza Theatre Company’s production of “Titanic.” While I may have seen the musical numerous times before, I never saw it—or felt it– like this. Because of the intimate setting in a smaller venue (that seats about 250 people), the audience becomes much more involved in the lives of the people portrayed onstage.

Captain E. J. Smith (award-winning Dallas actor Stan Graner) looks forward to retiring after a long, illustrious career where he never even saw a shipwreck. We feel his pain as the captain eloquently conveys his concern for holding over 2,000 lives “in the palm of my hand.”

We rejoice with the third class passengers (especially the three Irish Kates: (McGowan-Haley Twaddell; Murphey-Megan A. Liles; and Mullins-Rachel Daniels) as they sing of their dreams of new, better lives in America as a lady’s maid, secretary, and seamstress. We laugh at the upside down courtship of Kate McGowan and third-class passenger Farrell (Trevin McLaughlin), as she shamelessly pursues him during the voyage.

Barrett the Stoker

Then we anguish with Barrett (Evan Beggs), the stoker tasked with the difficult task of feeding the coal that fuels the steamship as the speed and intensity keeps increasing, all while dreaming of the sweetheart he left behind. There’s a touching scene between him and Bride (Josh Leblo) as Barrett convinces the kind-hearted telegrapher to wire his proposal back home to Darlene.

Second class passengers like young lovers Charles Clarke (Damson Chola Jr.) and Caroline Neville (Emma Brandenburg) also share their dreams of escaping the rigid class systems of the old world to find happiness in the New World. A few moments of welcome comic relief are provided by Alice Bean (Caitlan Leblo), a social crasher of the first order who’s unfortunately relegated to second class status, but determined to mingle with the upper crust. Her behavior is much to the chagrin of her husband, Edgar (Darren Clark), who hoped Alice might be satisfied with his owning “just one hardware store.”

First Class Passengers

Moving on up to the first class passengers, we learn that their stories are just as poignant as those of the other “classes.” This is especially true of Ida (Kathy Lemons) and Isador Strauss (Gary E. Payne). He’s the millionaire owner of Macy’s Department Store, and they’ve been happily married for 40 years. When it comes time for all women and children to board the lifeboats as the Titanic starts to sink, Ida refuses to leave her husband. I doubt there was a dry eye in the house as the devoted couple slowly remove their lifejackets while gazing into each other’s eyes and singing “Still,” (as in I love you still). I know mine certainly weren’t.

Everyone in this ensemble cast is remarkable, and their voices prove up to the task of this vocally-demanding musical, which is performed operatic style, or more singing than talking. We meet the enthusiastic teenaged bellman (Carson Clay) as he goes about his rounds, and share the concerns of the ship’s designer/builder Thomas Andrews (Robert Twaddell) as he learns the ship might actually sink. The first class steward, Etches (Nate Milson), who has served most of his passengers for many years on other ships and voyages, and knows their likes and dislikes better than they do, is especially memorable. The villain of the piece, ship’s owner J. Bruce Ismay (JaceSon P. Barrus) is easy to boo, but his portrayal of the arrogant, bullying coward (who jumps on the women’s and children’s lifeboat rather than go down with “his” ship) is great.

Titanic’s Ensemble Cast

Others in the cast include Stephen Singleton as Fleet, the lookout; Matt Victory as Hartley; Bob Beck as Murdoch, the first officer; and Jay Cornils as Lightoller and others. Aline Jennings plays DaMico and others (as well as choreographing the show), and Aria Leblo, Charleston Barrus, and Makenna Clark play passengers on the Titanic.

Jay Lewis is Director, JaceSon P. Barrus is Assistant Director, and Caitlan Leblo is music director. Alina Jennings is choreographer, and Lindsay Bart is Stage Manager. Costume design is by Tina Barrus, with set design by Jay Lewis and light design by Cameron Barrus. Sound design is by G. Aaron Siler, property design by Soni Barrus, and specialty props by Deb and Mark Dandrige. Set decorating by Soni Barrus, Jay Lewis, Mark and Deb Dandridge. Light/QLab/Turntable operator is Lindsay Batt, and sound board operator is Carlina Lopez. Backstage crew members are Mark Sandbox and Matthew Leake.

Destination: Cleburne

My husband and I made the trip to Cleburne last Saturday, in time to revisit a few of our favorite places like R&K Café II for yummy soul food, and Trovato Street Candy Store for chocolate, before catching the 3 p.m. matinee. Cleburne has become one of our favorite destinations, since it’s less than an hour from our Oak Cliff home, and an easy drive out Highway 67 South. Some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet live and work in Cleburne. Plus, the North Texas city has one of the best community theatre companies in North Texas! We look forward to seeing more of their productions.

“Titanic” the musical runs through Aug. 28 at Plaza Theatre Company’s Dudley Hall, 305 S. Anglin Street in Cleburne. Performance times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, and 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are priced at $25, or $23 for seniors 65+ and students, and $15 for children under 12. For tickets or information, call 817-202-0600 or visit plaza-theatre.com.

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