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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 24, 2002

A bouyant musical with full-tilt sinking

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor

Passengers wait to board the doomed ocean liner during the musical "Titanic," which opens tonight.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser


A musical by Maury Yeston, book by Peter Stone

8 p.m. today; repeats 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through June 9

Diamond Head Theatre



So just how does the ship sink in the musical "Titanic," opening tonight at Diamond Head Theatre?

Slowly, toward the audience.

Director-choreographer Jennifer Waldman, who has performed in the original Broadway show (she joined the cast at the first anniversary run in New York and since has worked with touring companies), says the DHT ship will tilt forward, unlike in most reincarnations.

It was all a matter of cost, hydraulics technology and safety issues, she said.

"The set is a huge unit that turns," said Waldman, 26. Set designer "Patrick Kelly, I think, has outdone himself with a huge unit that turns. On one side, there are the interior rooms; the other side is the deck that runs pretty much the entire length of the stage. And there are three separate decks that are on hydraulics, which tilt toward the audience, to nearly a 45-degree angle. I'm used to it tilting off toward one side of the stage, but here, the way the deck is built, it's easier to tilt forward. And it would have been more expensive, engineering-wise, to tilt sideways."

So now you know.

Everyone is curious just how the ship sinks, particularly in light of the megahit film version.

"But the musical is not the movie," said Waldman. "When the show was still running in New York, the movie came out six months later and won all those Oscars. That's when the buzz started for the (stage) show; it helped ticket sales. New Yorkers are a lot more knowledgeable about the show, but once we took it on the road, I think there were people who expected to see the movie on stage."

Look elsewhere. Same story, different sources and characters. The movie had some real, some fictional historical figures; the stage version is based on real folks who died in, or survived, the sailing tragedy.

The way the ship sinks is important, but in the end, the people and their stories matter more in this telling. "Titanic" is a story of their journey.

"There were nights where we got applause when the ship sank; but we (as actors) preferred the nights we didn't get applause because we knew that we really did our (acting) jobs. The show is built with the least amount of applause possible, since one song goes straight into another for the next scene. It moves along."

Waldman wasn't always interested in musical theater.

"I started out as a dancer, but in my teens, I had a water-skiing accident that prevented me from walking for nine months, so during that time I was so frustrated, so I used the time to take voice lessons. That was the beginning of doing musicals for me," she said.

Though she's vacationed here, this is the first working trip for Waldman, who called and asked DHT artistic director John Rampage if she could make her directorial debut, considering her experience with the show. Islander Greg Zane originally was to skipper the show, but couldn't; another chap was asked, but also couldn't.

Waldman figured she had the credentials, having been dance captain in the tour who "taught all the roles at least twice, some roles three or four times, so yes, I know the show. And it's a wonderful joy to share what you know with others."

A cast of 35, many playing multiple roles, is faced with many challenges, "the biggest of which is to make each character important," said Waldman.

And, she said with the voice of experience, "playing someone who dies in the sinking is easier, because his or story ends; to play a survivor means there's no closure at the end of the show. The guilt is immense, if you live."

She leaves Honolulu Saturday to prepare for a role in "West End Horror," a new mystery about Sherlock Holmes, for the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, N.Y. Terrence Mann (of "Les Miserables" and "Beauty and the Beast" fame) plays Holmes, Anthony Dodge is John Watson. "I'll be the only woman in the eight-member cast," said Waldman. "And it will be my first nonmusical since college days."