Revival Theater shines light in the dark with the musical “Titanic”

Revival Theater Company breathes new life into a forgotten musical about an unforgettable tragedy.

Despite winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, “Titanic” was eclipsed by the Oscar-winning film, both of which hit theaters in 1997.

Twenty-five years later, a premier cast of local actors and musicians will lead the way September 23-25 ​​in the Revival Theater production on stage at Theater Cedar Rapids.

The story revolves around portraits of courage, daring, reckless abandon, hopes and dreams that live and die with the ship. Familiar faces include Steve Rezabek as White Star Line executive and shipowner Bruce Ismay; Greg Smith as Captain Smith; Rob Merritt as ship designer Thomas Andrews; Joe Wetrich as Titanic coal stoker Fred Barrett. Zane Hadish, Sage Spiker, Joshua Fryvecind and Anne Ohrt are others who have had leading or starring roles in previous Revival productions.

Don’t expect to see Jack and Rose.

“These are characters invented in the film. They’re not real people,” director Brian Glick said. “Everyone in the musical version is factual – is a real person. And that’s what’s beautiful about the musical. There’s no made-up storyline, character – anything – so it’s super authentic. And that’s what makes it really beautiful and charming.

If you are going to

What: Revival Theater Company presents “Titanic”, the musical

Where: Cedar Rapids Theater, 102 Third St. SE

When: Sept. 23-25; 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $22 to $46; Cedar Rapids Theater Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or


The budding relationship between third-class passenger Kate McGowan, played by Catherine Blades, and the heroic Jim Farrell, played by Spiker, is the closest thing to Jack and Rose’s pivotal love story in the film. . Both are professional actors and natives of eastern Iowa.

“A lot of people (still ask), ‘Are we going to hear ‘My Heart Will Go On?’ No, but you’ll hear music you can hum along,” music director Cameron Sullenberger said. “And I think you’ll be taken by the score and the action.”

He agreed the blockbuster film eclipsed the stage version, which won Tonys for music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and the book by Peter Stone, as well as orchestrations and stage design.

“It’s one of those great musicals that got forgotten,” Sullenberger said, “but I would put it next to ‘Showboat’ (and) ‘Ragtime.’ It was really a style – those times, the big shows that you don’t see a lot. But you know, if you have a bunch of people chomping at the bit to sing again and be on stage again, that’s what you are doing.

It features the proverbial cast of thousands, with 70 actors and a 16-piece orchestra on stage.

“I love these kinds of shows that we do,” Glick said of reflecting on those numbers. “We really built a model around that – we have a whole system. We’ve come a long way since “Parade”, which was our first attempt. … When I started directing, I directed with large groups of people … so I’m super comfortable with large groups.


With a large production comes a high price. “Titanic” is the professional troupe’s most expensive show to date, at $90,000, funded primarily by grants, individual and corporate donations, ticket sales, sponsorships and the Artist Endowment Fund of the troop.

Yet the set won’t be a lavish recreation of the ship and the infamous iceberg, which was done for the original Broadway version, with three floors representing the three levels of classroom accommodation, then splitting into two, with actors dodging chairs as the chaos unfolds.

“It was very extreme, very literal, which was good 90s, in terms of stage design,” Glick said, noting that the Revival set will be scaled down to let the stories shine.

“We understand what’s going on – we don’t need people falling off the platforms,” ​​he said. “It’s about the people. I found myself when I watch these videos of the sets doing this, with people sliding and hanging for their lives, that I’m so focused on that I don’t pay attention to the story or the music and I’m disconnected . So it’s just not necessary. …

“From our point of view, there is still a lot of lighting, a lot of sound and multimedia. The whole back wall is multimedia, to create this place in time, and the lighting to create dramatic looks and blackouts, so we know something happened (via) sound effects and music. And that’s enough.

The set will have balustrades and ramps to create different levels, as well as a large staircase that will act as a vantage point, and a walkway around the orchestra pit, so it will look like various figures are walking around the edge Of the boat. Smoke and lights will also billow from the pit, as the orchestra will be seated on stage, opening up this space below the stage for special effects.

“We really don’t cheat the public,” Sullenberger added. “We give you everything, except for all the moving sets you would see in a full musical production. You will have it all.


The music is big and sweeping, “definitely a mix of opera and musical theatre”, noted Glick.

“The opening feels very cinematic and lyrical in its presentation. And yet it’s very stylistic. It’s very appropriate to the period (with) the last rag. It’s the industrial revolution, the turn of the 20th century” , said Glick. “It feels like that time.”

“The score (from Yeston) really captures the water and the grandeur of everything,” Sullenberger said. “It also captures the ominous ending to the whole process.

“The way he paced was, ‘I don’t want it to be near the end. We all know what the end is. I think it’s more interesting for the audience, who these people were, and how they felt about their life, the journey, and the joy. And then the pinnacle – terror. Some of them just sat down and smoked a cigar. The orchestra came down to play. Talk about sacrifice,” Sullenberger said.

“So I think he captures that in the music. He captures that in the melodies – the melodies are full and lush.

It also captures the characters’ native lands, with Celtic, English and German influences.

“And there’s always this undercurrent with the piano, like water flowing,” noted Sullenberger, who will play piano under the baton of conductor Michelle Perrin Blair of Texas, former director of orchestra at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.

“(Yeston) also knows when to keep it lighter and keep it celebratory, and not totally serious,” Sullenberger added. “He really set it up in a charming way.”

It also serves as a reminder that the characters all wanted to be on the ship and, of course, had no idea what would seal their fates.

“They were having the time of their lives until they weren’t,” said Glick, from first-class industry titans who felt entitled to be on board to third-class people who were there by luck of the draw, eager to find new opportunities in America.

Lasting fascination

Actor Rob Merritt, 46, of Cedar Rapids, has been captivated by the Titanic story since he was around 10 or 11 when he saw a National Geographic article about the wreck’s discovery.

“I had never heard of the Titanic before,” said Merritt, who plays one of his heroes, ship designer Thomas Andrews. “I saw these photos of this giant ocean liner at the bottom of the sea, and I was absolutely mesmerized by this story. I started reading everything I could about it.

He even built an 18-inch model of the ship during the 1997 Christmas vacation, during his senior year at the University of Iowa. Naturally, he’s seen the hit film several times and was thrilled to stumble upon a Titanic exhibit while on a trip to Las Vegas. He was even more stunned to find so much of the ship exposed.

“It was crazy that I was a fan of this ship and this story for so long at that point, and now I was face to face with a piece of the real thing,” he said. .

Even though it’s been 110 years since the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in the freezing North Atlantic, the story still resonates.

“I think it’s very easy to imagine yourself,” Merritt said. “If you were faced with this dilemma – the idea of ​​wow, this ship that was deemed unsinkable, and all of a sudden it sinks and you only have a few hours.

“It’s so fascinating to see how different people have reacted. The way the crew reacted; how passengers reacted; the idea that there were not enough lifeboats on the ship. There was just a different mentality back then,” he said.

“I don’t know what would happen if something like this happened today. We talked about it a few times in rehearsal, that for some people on this ship, there was a certain gallantry to go with. The captain stayed on the boat, Thomas Andrews stayed on the boat.

“It’s fascinating, and it’s terrifying,” he added. “And it represents both what humanity is capable of achieving, because the Titanic was the largest moving object in the world at that time. At the same time, it also shows how small we are, because in the blink of an eye of an eye, Mother Nature has just demolished it.

“There are so many fascinating angles to the Titanic story, and that’s why it’s been dragging on for so long.”

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Three major forces behind the action in the musical ‘Titanic’ are (left to right) White Star Line manager and shipowner Bruce Ismay (Steve Rezabek), ship designer Thomas Andrews (Rob Merritt) and Captain Smith (Greg Smith). Revival Theater Company is performing the 1997 musical at Theater Cedar Rapids September 23-25. (Alisabeth Von Presley/TINT)

Three major forces behind the action in the musical ‘Titanic’ are (left to right) White Star Line manager and shipowner Bruce Ismay (Steve Rezabek), ship designer Thomas Andrews (Rob Merritt) and Captain Smith (Greg Smith). Revival Theater Company is performing the 1997 musical at Theater Cedar Rapids September 23-25. (Alisabeth Von Presley/TINT)

Catherine Blades portrays Irish immigrant Kate McGowan, one of three third-class Kates who help give that point of view in “Titanic.” Revival Theater Company is performing the award-winning musical September 23-25 ​​at Theater Cedar Rapids. (Alisabeth Von Presley/TINT)

Titanic history fan Rob Merritt stars as his hero, ship designer Thomas Andrews, in the musical “Titanic.” The Revival Theater Company production will be presented at Theater Cedar Rapids from September 23-25. (Alisabeth Von Presley/TINT)

Steve Rezabek plays Bruce Ismay, leader and shipowner of the White Star Line, in the Revival Theater production of “Titanic,” onstage Sept. 23-25 ​​at Theater Cedar Rapids. Ismay is often seen as the ship’s villain, but Titanic aficionado and cast member Rob Merritt said historians note that Ismay helped load people onto the lifeboats, but the fact that he survived haunted him the rest of his life. (Alisabeth Von Presley/TINT)