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'Titanic' set to sail at Peoria Players

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Yes, the ship sinks at the end. But will those who attend "Titanic, The Musical" at Peoria Players Theatre see it happen or just have to imagine it? 

"We thought we could do this show and sell it on just the fact the story and music are so good. We thought we could get by without all the bells and whistles," said Steve Bortolotti, who is director of the regional premier of "Titanic, The Musical," which opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. and continues through Feb. 13.

But the Peoria Players board of directors asked Bortolotti to try and come up with some type of boat-sinking effect for the stage at 4300 N. University St.

And so, the boat will sink on stage.

(Photo by Paul Gordon) Sean Howell, right, portrays Capt. E.J. Smith and Charles Brown is ist Officer Murdoch in the Peoria Players Theatre production of "Titanic, the Musical." It opens Friday and continues through Feb. 12."We agreed to do something. And, well, we did. It's pretty impressive," Bortolotti said before a recent dress rehearsal for the musical that has a cast of 45, many of whom play multiple roles as the show depicts how the maiden — and final — voyage of the Titanic affected different classes of passengers.

"The piece gives a lot of focus to the class system that existed at the time. There are a lot of subtleties in the play that people probably haven't thought about," he said.

Bortolotti cast some of the top voices and acting talent in Peoria community theatre; names such as Jarod Hazzard, Dave Montague and Fred Schoen, along with Barb Couri, Katie McCluckie and Helen Englebrecht.

But the director said the real star of "Titanic, The Musical" is the ship.

"There really is no 'lead' character or characters in this show. The Ship is the lead and it should be. The cast wanted to do this show because of the wonderful music and the story. The audience will become invested in the entire cast," Bortolotti said.

He added that the music, while beautiful, is difficult to master. "I have to give a big shout out to Susie (Somerville Brown, the music director for the show). She worked hard with everybody in the cast to get their best," he said.

The music and lyrics were written by Maury Yeston, who also wrote the music and lyrics for "Nine" and "Grand Hotel". The book for this show was written by the late Peter Stone, who also wrote "1776," "Woman of the Year" and "Two By Two," along with numerous screenplays.

(Photo by Paul Gordon) Katie McCluckie, sings in her characterization of a third-class passenger on the ill-fated Titanic. On the screen behind is a photo depicting the conditions third-class passengers endured on the voyage.Bortolotti makes generous use of Power Point in the show to help illustrate on a large screen what the characters are talking about or witnessing as the show progresses over the period the ship sailed from England toward the United States. Not only does it give perspective to the dialogue and lyrics, it helps the audience follow the timeline.

That's important as the audience gets to see not only how the ship's passengers viewed the events but also how the crew and officials of White Star Line, which built and owned the Titanic, treated the voyage up to the day the ship struck the iceberg. That occurred nearly 100 years ago, on April 14, 1912.

The effect of the ship sinking is done largely with hydraulics that were donated to Peoria Players by Koenig Body and Equipment of West Peoria. But the credit for figuring out how to do it and making it happen goes to long-time Peoria Players member Howard Gorman, said Bortolotti.

"I went to Howard and said 'let's do this.' Howard is always ready to try something but he always put safety first. But we worked on it and got it done," he said.

"Titanic, The Musical" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 3, 4, 8, 9, 10 and 11 and at 2 p.m. on Feb. 5 and 12. Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for patrons under 18 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling (309) 688-4473 or visiting www.peoriaplayers.org.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at 692-7880 or editor@thepeorian.com

 

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).