story and photos by Jeremy Donnell
FORT SMITH — The weather outside Fort Smith Little Theatre set the stage for gala opening of Titanic/The Musical Thursday night (July 26). Potentially damaging storms brought a torrential downpour and loud claps of thunder, foreshadowing the tragedy about to happen on stage.
Though the stage was small, the cast was ample and talented, leaving a big impact on the sold-out crowd. Said Titanic director George Mann: “Fort Smith has some of the best singers around.”
The show continues Friday and Saturday nights (July 27-28) and Aug. 1-4 with a matinee Sunday (July 29) and an additional performance Tuesday (July 31).
Unlike the movie Titanic (which came out the same year, 1997), the musical relies more on the characters and history, Mann said.
“The only similarity to the movie is that the ship sinks,” he said.
Titanic sank on it’s maiden voyage in 1912, making this the 100th anniversary. Mann said this was one reason he chose to do the musical.
“Everyone is already talking about it this year. It fits right in,” he said.
Titanic/The Musical, written by Peter Stone, won five Tony Awards. Mann watched the cast as it performed a Titanic number on the Rosie O’Donnell show, sparking his passion for the play. Since then, he has always had the sound track on his iPod.
In the musical, every character is true to history and many lines are actual words that were said on the RMS Titanic. The musical portrays how the social cast system erodes during the crises, giving way to basic human emotions like fear, pain, love and sadness.
“There are no main characters really,” Mann said. “Each has about the same amount of lines.”
The small stage is perhaps even better for the play, as Mann determined after reading a review by a critic who saw the musical in a small town.
“The reviewer had seen it on Broadway with the big set and hydraulics and was prepared for it not to be as good, but he was amazed how he never missed the elaborate set and decided the set actually pulled away from the story.”
Mann achieved this feat at the Fort Smith Little Theatre.
Pulling it off on the limited budget of a community theater was no easy task. The songs have a lot of words, many members of the cast are playing more than one role and have to change costumes, and all the costumes and large boat set had to be created.
“Every director has their plan, their vision, their baby,” says Mann. “Just like a real baby, rarely does it turn out just like you thought it would, but many times it is for the better.”