Man the lifeboats—here comes “Titanic” (the musical)
The idea of staging the tragic saga of the “Titanic” as a Broadway show must have seemed preposterous when it premiered in 1997. Some may have thought it was disrespectful of the 1,500 who went down with the ship on its maiden voyage in 1912. Not to mention the logistics of staging its demise. Yet the musical, created by Peter Stone (story and book) and Maury Yeston (music) was a hit, running for more than 800 performances and winning a Tony for best musical. It’s since been staged around the world.
And now it comes to Boulder, directed by Broadway veteran and CU Boulder College of Music guest faculty member Bob Westenberg. In three performances, March 15-17, audiences in Macky Auditorium will relive the tragedy of that “night to remember.” Visiting during a Zoom call from his Longmont home, Westenberg admits that directing “Titanic, the Musical” is proving far more exciting than “Beauty and the Beast.” We’ll let him explain.
Last spring, Musical Theatre Program Director Matthew Chellis made an offer to Westenberg, newly arrived on campus. “Matthew gave me two titles to choose from—‘Titanic’ or ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ I chose ‘Beauty’ because I felt casting it was more age-appropriate. I mean, there were all these old people aboard the Titanic.”
So what changed Westenberg’s mind? “I fell in love with the score. The music is just so wonderful—and we’ll have the great effect of a tea cart slowly rolling across the stage, and suddenly everyone stops and realizes the ship is sinking.”
Those little moments are what can make theatre so special for this man of the stage. Consider his résumé: He made his debut eons ago in “Zorba” with Anthony Quinn; he was the original Prince Charming in Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” (his “Cinderella,” Kim Crosby, has been his wife for 35 years); he’s portrayed “Javert” in “Les Miserables” on Broadway, and more. Plus national tours and plenty of film and TV roles.
So how did he land in Boulder? “Kim and I have three children. Our eldest daughter was drawn to studying medicine at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. Then she got married and settled in Longmont, so Kim and I decided to move there in 1997,” explains Westenberg whose experience comprises 40 years in the theatre and 20 years as an educator at Missouri State. “I had known Donovan Marley in California and he asked me to work with him at the Denver Center Theatre Company [where Marley served as artistic director].” And it’s not a long drive from Longmont to the Boulder campus. Once auditions for CU Boulder singers were completed last fall and the cast of 40 was chosen, it was full steam ahead.
Westenberg’s students include majors in opera and musical theatre. The orchestra numbers 30, but there will be no iceberg. “This is not about big production values,” the director stresses. “Rather, the creators tried to humanize what happened, telling of passengers in first, second and third class. We’ll see how those characters perform under that terrible duress and how the storyline is musicalized. This is what makes for the classical structure of a musical.”
The CU Boulder College of Music’s Musical Theatre and Eklund Opera programs present “Titanic, the Musical” at Macky Auditorium from March 15 through 17, 2024.
This article appears courtesy of the CU Boulder College of Music.