Various Artists

Titanic: The Musical

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Book writer Peter Stone, in his liner notes to this original Broadway cast recording of Titanic, explains the approach that he and composer/lyricist Maury Yeston took to the story of the doomed ocean liner. "[S]he will not," he writes of the ship, "serve as merely the background against which fictional, melodramatic narratives are recounted. The central character of our Titanic is the Titanic herself." An admirable approach that has led to an admirable, if uninvolving score. To say that the ship is the central character is not to say that there are no other characters, of course. In fact, there are 40 cast members. But it's notable that, while the show won all five of the Tony Awards for which it was nominated, among them best musical and best score, it was not nominated in any performance category. No wonder -- the score consists mostly of choral numbers that are, not surprisingly, full of hope and enthusiasm in the first act (pre-iceberg) and full of dread and melancholy in the relatively brief second. (That's right, about two-thirds of the music on the disc comes before the ship starts going down.) There are a few of those melodramatic narratives Stone abhors, but the writers are much more interested in creating a broad panorama and providing a sociological history lesson: they see the sinking of the ship representing the collapse of class distinctions in the early 20th century. Yeston's music contains smatterings of Gilbert and Sullivan, ragtime, and pop, but for the most part, he is interested in massed voices, which may make this score a boon to high school choruses everywhere. It also makes Titanic more vulnerable than many other shows to the reductive effects of the cast album -- without the sets and special effects to add drama, the music alone does not achieve the intended spectacular effect. On Broadway, Titanic was still sailing the year after it opened; on record, it never really leaves the dock.

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