People who go to musicals are usually looking for an amusing and tuneful evening, a show with a happy ending. Obviously you won't find those things in Titanic: The Musical.
The Titanic, the largest ship in the world when it was launched in 1912, struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank with the loss of more than 1,200 lives.
Running through Nov. 11 at Toby's Dinner Theatre, the show offers intense human drama and a portrait of a bygone time. It introduces people who are rigidly segregated into social classes and shows how they react to an overwhelming catastrophe.
Titanic: The Musical, has no connection to the 1997 movie. It sticks mostly to the historical facts and uses real names (a few are slightly altered).
We see the officers and crew boarding the new ship at Southampton, England, followed by the passengers.
In second class are Mr. and Mrs. Beane, heading home to Indianapolis. Edgar Beane, a prosperous hardware man, is sympathetically played by Daniel L. McDonald. Janine Gulisano-Sunday gives a lively performance as Alice, his gabbling, social-climbing wife.
Also in second class are Charles Clark (Ryan Manning) and Caroline Neville (Kerry Deitrick), traveling as man and wife but not married.
The arrival of the first-class passengers, fashionably late, brings a parade of multimillionaires - John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, Philadelphians George Widener and John B. Thayer - with their wives.
The oldest of them is Isidor Straus, the owner of Macy's, who arrives with his wife, Ida. (One prominent first-class passenger, Mrs. J.J. Brown of Denver, isn't in the cast. She has her own musical: The Unsinkable Molly Brown.)
In real life, the third-class passengers came mostly from the Continent - Scandinavia, Germany, Eastern Europe - plus a few from the Middle East and Asia.
The script, however, concentrates on the Irish emigrants who came aboard at Queenstown, Ireland. In their social area below, they sing of their ambitions to make a better life in America.
Every show needs a villain, and in Titanic it is J. Bruce Ismay, head of the White Star Line (arrogantly played by Lawrence B. Munsey). The script has him urging Capt. E.J. Smith and the Titanic's designer, Thomas Andrews, to get the maximum speed out of the ship despite the danger of ice.
There is no definite proof of this, but Ismay's bad behavior later in the show is a matter of history.
Inevitably, the Titanic hits an iceberg and chaos follows. There are not enough lifeboats. The first-class passengers are closer to the boats than the second; the third-class passengers are six or seven decks below.
Wives will not leave their husbands to get into the boats, and the attempts to separate couples make for high drama. A scene involving Mr. and Mrs. Straus (portrayed with dignity by Robert Beidermann and Melynda Burdette) expands on the few known facts and is particularly moving.
Reflections by some of the survivors end the show on a thoughtful note.
David Bosley-Reynolds makes an impressive Captain Smith.
Russell Sunday puts his fine baritone voice to good use as Thomas Andrews. Andrew Horn gives a sensitive performance as a tactful and dedicated steward.
First-class passenger Charlotte Cardoza, whom the script presents as what people in 1912 called the New Woman, is played with boldness and charm by Heather Marie Beck.
Other leading roles are portrayed by Joshua D. Singer (Astor), Sam Ludwig (Guggenheim), Ben Gibson (Thayer) and John Dellaporta (Widener).
Also in the cast are Adam Grabau, Dan Sonntag, Byron Fenstermaker, Joseph Thanner, Laura Keena, Kate Williams, Jenny Fersch, Jessica Ball, Rosie Sowa and Emily Ann Formica.
Peter Stone has dramatized the story skillfully. Maury Yeston's operatic score works best at moments of high drama - when ice is sighted, when the lifeboats are being loaded.
Lawrence B. Munsey, in addition to playing Ismay, directed the show in collaboration with Toby Orenstein, designed the authentic-looking costumes and created the choreography.
Titanic: The Musical is absorbing, frequently gripping and basically true to history.
Toby's Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, presents "Titanic: The Musical" through Nov. 11. Evenings: Doors open 6 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Matinees: Doors open 10:30 a.m. Sundays and Wednesdays. Reservations are required. Information or reservations: 410-730-8311 or 800-888-6297.