‘Titanic’ sails into Minnetonka Theatre April 22

Left to right, Sylvia Shutes, Lauren Dahl and Madelyn Smerillo. (Photo courtesy of Amy Jore)
Left to right, Sylvia Shutes, Lauren Dahl and Madelyn Smerillo. (Photo courtesy of Amy Jore)

Minnetonka Theatre is taking a voyage on the “ship of dreams” in the spring musical “Titanic.” The premiere is 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22 at the Arts Center on 7, 18285 Hwy. 7, Minnetonka.

The 1997 Tony Award-winning musical, that premiered months before the hit James Cameron film “Titanic,” takes a strictly historical approach to the heart-stopping and riveting story of the final moments of the Titanic’s fateful journey, compared to the fictional film.

Winner of five Tony Awards including Best Musical, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and written by Peter Stone, the chamber musical is as massive as the ocean liner that shares its name. Full of memorable characters based on the real men and women on the ship, Titanic are a powerful, complex look at the making of a tragedy.

“Titanic is an under-produced, hidden gem of a musical, that ranks right up there with ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Les Misérables,’” said Artistic Director Trent Boyum. “The score will make the hair on your arms stand up. It’s a very special show, centered on the real passengers and their relationships.”

The musical follows the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the early hours of April 15, 1912, remains the quintessential disaster of the 20th century. A total of 1,517 men, women and children lost their lives in the tragic sinking and only 711 survived. The Titanic, which was named the finest, largest, strongest ship in the world and was said to be “unsinkable.”

“The big difference between the movie ‘Titanic’ and the Broadway musical is that in the musical, all the characters are real people where as the film characters are fictional set in a historical backdrop,” said Boyum. “We try to tell people to let go of Jack and Rose because if you think your coming to see a musical version of the film, you’ll be disappointed.”

The young actors and actresses at Minnetonka Theatre have been actively involved in researching their historical counterparts, whether they were a passenger or crew member.

“Our students are working very hard to honor all of the true-to-life characters they are portraying,” Boyum said. “We all know how this story ends, but the passengers are so full of hope and excitement. You’ll leave the show inspired by the strength of the human spirit.”

Students who weren’t cast in leading roles and weren’t assigned a specific historical character were encouraged to find and research someone in their role.

Minnetonka High School student Jacina Bennett was cast in the musical as a stewardess. When she mentioned her casting in the musical to her grandmother she discovered her great-great grandmother Mabel Bennett was a first class stewardess and survivor of the Titanic.

Jacina ended up researching her great-great-grandmother, and in the play she is called Mabel.

“It’s amazing! I love it!” Jacina said. “It’s so great to get to be able to play her. It’s weird to think if she hadn’t survived I wouldn’t be here.”

Assistant Director Lauren Bartelt said all the students have been very responsible in researching the Titanic and their historical roles.

“The kids are doing an amazing job and their doing a lot of research about their characters,” said Bartelt. “So many people find the Titanic story fascinating and everything that lead up to the disaster. It was the largest moving object in the world. It was groundbreaking and historical.”

“What’s great about ‘Titanic’ is it’s really about all the real people and what you end up learning about what these people really went through, when they were there, why they were there and what happened to them when they hit the iceberg,” Boyum said. “You really get to know way more characters and their backstory and their passions and their dreams. It’s like watching musical history come to life.”

The musical also examines the social structure within the ship by focusing on characters in first-class, second-class, third-class and the crew.

“The musical ask the question, why are we so fascinated with the story of the Titanic?” Boyum said. “I think it was a microcosm at the time of the class system. In this boat became its own country and with first, second, third class and the serving class you saw what happened on that boat when an iceberg hits, and you know at the time they say it’s the first time in history where God does not favor the rich because look what happened. When disaster strikes your in it together and you’re all equal.”

Bartelt added, “We think about the Titanic as that epic disaster that changed how we look at the class system throughout the world.”

Boyum also wanted to get the students to focus on how people act during a disaster to help further develop their roles.

“We try to get the kids to think about if they were in this kind of disaster, how would we act?” he said. “We all think we’d be heroes but would we?”

Minnetonka senior Steven Oasheim plays the role of the Director of the White Star Line J. Bruce Ismay, who survived the sinking after boarding a lifeboat despite the “women and children only” rule. Ismay was later labeled as the “Coward of the Titanic” and “J. Brute Ismay.”

“In the musical Ismay was more demonized, he was played as a caricature of an evil villain,” Oasheim said. “I though like to find something in the character I really like and love and something I could relate with so I could really understand the character a little bit better and make the connection of him being a real person.”

Oasheim found that the humanizing aspect of Ismay in his dreams and motivations. Ismay was motivated to please his father, the former director of the White Star Line, and to live up to his family name. Oasheim said he thoroughly researched Ismay, especially his accounts of the Titanic’s final moments.

“Once Ismay inherited the company, he decided that, I’m going to finance five new ships and there going to be the best ships in the world and there going to be the fastest and the most luxurious and that’s how I’m going to live up to my father’s name and that’s how I’m going to prove myself to the world and I want to be remembered as something amazing and a legend,” Oasheim said. “It’s really cool to feel that way and also translate it to the stage and really understand that how it relates to other characters.”

Senior Rob Dow is playing First Officer Lieutenant William McMaster Murdoch, who did not survive the sinking. Murdoch was the senior crewmember in charge when the Titanic hit the iceberg.
Dow said he tried to relate Murdoch’s experiences to his own life.

“I short of relate the character a lot to myself and my role at school,” he said. “I’m student body president of the school and I have that big role of power. But there is my advisor. Who is above me and is like the captain. I’m eager to take on all this responsibility but when things go south, I’ve felt that feeling when the world’s crashing down on you that you didn’t want all this responsibility.”

Boyum said, “We explore the psychological things that it does to this young man.”

Historically it’s unknown how Murdoch died so Dow said he was able to take liberties with the character while at the same time relying on eyewitness accounts.

“It isn’t officially confirmed how he died but I think he would be grappling with this massive ordeal and knowing that he put all these people’s lives in jeopardy,” Dow said. “Regardless how his fate ended up panning out I understand how I would interpret it in that situation and all I do know about him.”

Boyum said this production of “Titanic” will be unlike anything seen before. The set encompasses the whole stage, including the orchestra pit. For the first time ever the orchestra is being moved to the studio theater and music will be pumped through the loudspeakers into the main stage.

“It’s one of the biggest sets we’ve ever had,” Boyum said. “Every crevasse is being used. Despite it being very simple, the audience will still see the grandeur.”

Creating the ship Titanic proved a real challenge to the crew members.

“The set is a series of ramps and platforms that changes into what there used for from scene to scene,” said Nate Pierstorft, a senior and the stage manager. “It’s very representational. You don’t see the hull of the ship, but it still has the feel that your on the Titanic.”

The audience will also be transported to the Titanic through elaborate costumes, sound and setting.

“It feels very authentic for the time period and you don’t lose the scope of the Titanic because the set is so big,” said Pierstorft.

The production of “Titanic” is playing 7:30 p.m. April 22, April 28, April 29, May 5 and May 6; and 2 p.m. April 23 and May 7 at the Minnetonka Theatre Arts Center on 7, 18285 Hwy. 7, Minnetonka.
Tickets are $20 for adults and seniors and $12 for youth. Reserved seating and group rates are available.

For more information, visit minnetonkatheatre.com or call 952-401-5898.

Contact Paige Kieffer at [email protected]