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Author: Adam Goldstein

“Titanic” Musical Explores Human Side of One of History’s Most Famous Tragedies

Even though “Titanic: The Musical” bears the name of one of history’s most famous ships in its title, it’s really a story about people.

The subject of this show, penned by composer Maury Yeston and librettist Peter Stone, is hardly unfamiliar to pop culture. The 1912 sinking of the Titanic has become the stuff of legend. The tragedy at sea has spawned countless books, plays, films and songs over the past century; it’s found a rare status as a modern parable about human hubris.

While the broad outlines of the story may be familiar to many, the critically acclaimed musical has flown under the radar for many musical theater fans. The show earned a slew of Tony Awards after its debut in 1997; it toured theaters across the world and even recently received a revival in the form of simulcasts in movie theaters across the country, including in Boulder. Still, Yeston and Stone’s musical retelling of the Titanic story never achieved the notoriety or popularity of the film of the same name that also debuted in 1997 (for the record, no Celine Dion songs figure into this stage show). For many, the musical remains a hidden gem, which is one of the reasons the work felt like the perfect fit for the biannual collaboration between the College of Music’s Eklund Opera and Musical Theatre programs.

“In this show, we get a very diverse group of different kinds of songs, from Irish reels to big rousing ensemble numbers to poignant solo numbers,” said CU Boulder Musical Theatre Director Matthew Chellis. “With the ensemble nature of the show, you can have a large number of people in different roles bringing this story to life.”

In this case, that sizable cast represents the broad spectrum of engineers, workers, passengers and magnates who represent the story behind the Titanic that’s often overlooked. This isn’t the story of famous passengers like “the unsinkable” Molly Brown or the imagined star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose; Yeston and Stone focus on the people who brought the Titanic to sea, from its initial planning phases to its ill-fated journey in 1912.

Chellis continued, “This musical is about all the diverse people who were involved in the ship and who were on that journey. We have the people who are working—the stokers, the officers. We have the designer, the architect, the man who designed the Titanic and the people who backed it financially. We see their stories and the music follows them.”

The production will draw on the expertise of a Broadway veteran to bring that vision to life. Tony Award-nominated Robert Westenberg—whose credits include Broadway runs of “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Les Misérables,” “Into the Woods” and “The Secret Garden”—will direct.

Westenberg will bring a deeper dimension to the storytelling element and musical facets of the material, Chellis said; he’ll help the true-to-life, inescapably personal side of the shipwreck come to life.

“The audience will really come to care about these characters,” added Chellis, noting a strange contradiction about the music. “Despite the tragedy of it all, this show is uplifting in a very human sense.”

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.