Review: Titaníque Takes Us Back to the Ship of Dreams, as Imagined by Céline Dion
This unofficial Céline Dion jukebox is undoubtedly the summer's gayest new musical.
As they board the Titanic, the passengers sing "I'm Alive," Céline Dion's upbeat anthem from Stuart Little 2, secure in the knowledge that they are indeed alive and couldn't be anything else anytime soon. Such hubris is the foundation of great drama — or in this case, ridiculous musical parody. Just in time for Gay Pride comes Titaníque, which is currently playing under a Gristedes supermarket at the Asylum Theatre.
Created by Marla Mindelle, Constantine Rousouli, and Tye Blue (who directs), Titaníque retells the plot of James Cameron's blockbuster 1997 film from the perspective of the woman who sang its theme, Céline Dion. Speaking with an accent that is the aural equivalent of poutine slathered in maple syrup, Mindelle embodies Céline at her most quirky, riffing as if no one (or perhaps everyone) is watching, and claiming to have been on the actual Titanic as it sank into the North Atlantic in 1912.
She hijacks a tour of the Titanic museum to set the record straight about star-crossed lovers Rose (a maniacally intense Alex Ellis), Jack (Constantine Rousouli, occupying the borderlands between dopey and sexy), and their night to remember. Over the course of 90 minutes, we meet Rose's loathsome fiancé (John Riddle), her psychotic mother (Ryan Duncan serving an unexpected shot of Mommie Dearest), the unsinkable Molly Brown (Kathy Deitch), and shipbuilder/captain Victor Garber (Frankie Grande). Omniscient and omnipotent, Céline hovers throughout, leading the doomed passengers in renditions of songs like "To Love You More," "Because You Loved Me," and, of course, "My Heart Will Go On."
Blue directs Titaníque with the thrown-together aesthetic that has benefited parody musicals like Showgirls! and Love Actually? With few scenic elements to impede them (a rickety ship's bow is the central design element from Iron Bloom Creative Production and Gabriel Hainer Evansohn), the actors rush on and off the incredibly wide and narrow stage, which itself resembles a ship's deck. Alejo Vietti's budget costumes add to the camp factor: Jack looks like an H&M model, while Rose is inexplicably dressed like an old west saloon singer. They perform Ellenore Scott's wedding reception flashmob choreography under moving LED lights designed by Paige Seber. Prop designer Eric Reynolds has fashioned a supersize version of the "Heart of the Ocean" necklace out of garland, and it hangs above the stage during preshow like a prom decoration circa 1998.
At its best, Titaníque explores the shadowy depths of Titanic's status as a cultural phenomenon that has left an indelible impression on the imaginations and sexual lives of millennials (the foggy car window receives a round of applause). At its worst, it feels like a Céline Dion-themed karaoke night with friends — which is still pretty awesome when your friends can sing like this.
Mindelle leads the way with a voice that keeps up with Céline; but the supporting actors also deliver excellent performances, especially Deitch in a breathtaking rendition of "All by Myself." Grande performs a supercharged version "I Drove All Night" (the most dramaturgically appropriate song in the show), and that leads inevitably to Jaye Alexander's memorable appearance as the iceberg — a character that might already have her own jukebox musical on Broadway. Situated upstage like the music director of the fiesta deck, Nicholas Connell leads the band with the kind of unbridled passion that one must bring to any great performance of a Céline Dion song.
Titaníque is a guaranteed good night out for anyone who lived through America's late-'90s Titanic phase and lived to tell the tale. It's even better after a cocktail or two. The show is currently scheduled to play through the summer, but I can see it going on to a glorious life on the high seas: I'm looking at you, Atlantis Cruises.