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Theatre in Review: Titanique (The Asylum NYC)

The cast of Titanique> Photo: Emilio Madrid

The summer silly season officially arrives with this frail, noisy offering, a Hollywood spoof grafted to a playlist of CĂ©line Dion hits. Indeed, Dion is the show's presiding muse: During a museum tour, she emerges from a crone's outfit, arrayed in all her fabulousness, to narrate the true story of that notorious oceangoing disaster -- which, as it happens, closely mirrors the screenplay of James Cameron's film. To give you sense of the humor on offer, Dion, by way of introducing herself, says, "I have been in this Panda Express for over a year. "You mean pandemic?" someone asks. "Ah yes, that is what I mean," the diva concedes.

If that amuses you, chances are you'll be beside yourself at Titanique; if it leaves you scratching your head, better not book passage on this sub-Carnival cruise. The script, by Tye Blue, Marla Mindelle, and Constantine Rousouli, drops names rather than jokes. When Molly Brown, played in Cameron's film by Kathy Bates, appears, someone says, "She's an American Horror Story," referencing Bates' long-running attachment to that Ryan Murphy series. When Molly learns that the ship has only two lifeboats for 2,000 people, she snaps, "What is this? Norwegian Cruise Lines?" Then there's Victor Garber, named after the actor cast as the ship's architect in the film; here he is sometimes called "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," as if mentioning an old Woody Allen film were the spirit of hilarity. This is the laziest kind of gagging, right out of an old Bob Hope variety-show sketch.

Of course, none of this may matter to Titanique's target audience, which is young, gay, and hell-bent on an airheaded good time. (The producers have cannily opted to take advantage of the summer tourist trade, capitalizing on Pride Month.) The plot traces the romance between Rose -- unhappily affianced to wealthy, effete Cal -- and Jack, the cheeky boy from steerage. It's a good choice, because Jack is the only apparent heterosexual male onstage. Cal asks the captain to speed up the voyage, because "I've got a hair appointment in Soho. They book way out." Envisioning the upcoming nuptials, he adds, "I've decided the groomsmen will all be wearing periwinkle suits." Victor Garber falls for the character known as The Seaman and you can imagine what they do with that. The fatal iceberg is regularly referred to as "the iceberg bitch." Occasionally, a cardboard cutout of Patti LuPone pops up, a strange choice in a show with no dearth of living, breathing divas.

It's all low-rent gay bar stuff, best enjoyed if you partake plentifully from the theatre's cocktail bar. (Personally, a bottle of straight gin wouldn't have helped me enjoy Titanique, but there you are.) The lowbrow antics are frequently broken up with a selection of Dion's greatest hits, including, "I Drove All Night," "Beauty and the Beast" (accompanied by some grousing about the Walt Disney Company), "Because You Loved Me," and, of course, "My Heart Will Go On." Late in the evening, none other than Tina Turner shows up -- all right, it's actor Jaye Alexander in drag -- to deliver "River Deep, Mountain High." (Dion amusingly introduces Turner as "the original singer of my best cover.") The big-voiced cast delivers the numbers at such nerve-wracking SPL levels that, halfway though the evening, I was ready to pick up my poor damaged eardrums and go home.

The staging, by Blue, with choreography with Ellenore Scott, struggles to make effective use of the limited stage space, often leaving large sections of the three-sided audience staring at actors' backs. The cast members throw themselves into the roles with almost alarming energy. Mindelle offers a reasonably clever Dion impersonation, capturing her grand gestures, impenetrable accent, and aggressive aura of inspiration. Rousouli is amusingly ingenue-ish as Jack; he partners well with Alex Ellis as the put-upon Rose. Among the Broadway pros picking up summer paychecks are Kathy Deitch as Molly Brown; Ryan Duncan, camping it up as Rose's grasping mother; John Riddle, adroitly spoofing his leading man looks as Cal, and Frankie Grande as Victor Garber. (The latter's presence had me thinking, chillingly, that, sooner or later, we will be getting a jukebox musical built around his pop-star sister Ariana, called -- what? 7 Rings? Bang Bang? But I digress.) Alexander wins the good sport award for appearing as the Iceberg and Tina Turner, among other roles.

The set design, by Iron Bloom Creative Production/Gabriel Hainer Evansohn crams in a musical combo against a set of ship's windows, behind which color-changing LEDs provide multi-hued backgrounds. (The lighting is by Paige Seber.) Alejo Vietti's costumes are at their best when aping Dion's wardrobe and Molly Brown's distinctive ensembles. If Lawrence Schober's sound design is permanently dialed up to eleven, I imagine he is giving his director and authors what they want.

The worst you can say about Titanique is that it is harmless; if people want to knock back Cosmopolitans and yuk it up at bad jokes, that's their business. But a little wit would be nice, along with some discipline; it shows a bit of regard for the audience. Alas, such qualities aren't evident at The Asylum NYC. As Dion, a loyal French Canadian, might say, "Tant pis." --David Barbour

(28 June 2022)

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