With so much of today’s theater forcing us to reflect on our current-day society and its moral problems, no one can blame audiences for seeking a pure escape – perhaps just like the millionaires of 1912 who went aboard the maiden voyage of the Titanic.
Fortunately, we can now hop aboard “Titanique,” the alternately clever and kooky-send up of both James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster film “Titanic” and the French-Canadian superstar Celine Dion, who sang the movie’s Oscar-winning theme song “My Heart Will Go On.” It’s the perfect vehicle in which to pass 90 minutes in the basement of a Gristedes (aka The Asylum Theater in Chelsea) and forget about the outside world.
The show’s goofy framework quickly introduces us to the seemingly inimitable Dion (a bedazzled and vocally dazzling Marla Mindelle, who co-wrote the script with director Tye Blue and co-star Constantine Rousouli). She not only surprises the visitors of the Titanic Museum, but insists she was a passenger on that ship (which would make her about 150 years old) -- and then recounts what happened that day using the fictional plot of Cameron’s film. And here’s my major caveat: While you don’t have to have seen the movie a zillion times to enjoy the show, if you have no knowledge of it, you will be, pardon the pun, totally at sea.
So once more, we follow the ill-fated love story of the charming, dirt-poor Jack Dawson (played by Rousouli, who is immensely appealing, possessed of a killer voice, and who resembles Brad Pitt far more than Leonardo DiCaprio) and the feisty, equally poor Rose Dewitt Bukater (Alex Ellis, a vocal powerhouse with comedic chops who is now my choice to take over the lead in “Funny Girl” this fall.)
Ruth is being forced into marriage – by her domineering mother Ruth (a superb Ryan Duncan outfitted in drab drag) -- to the somewhat menacing, ultra-rich and probably gay Cal (brilliantly embodied by a scene-stealing John Riddle). As Ruth reminds Rose, she needs to wed Cal because “we’re so poor right now, we have to go to KFC to lick other people’s fingers.”
But Rose has other ideas, especially about her losing her virginity to Jack – all encouraged by the wealthy yet earthy “Unsinkable” Molly Brown (a fabulous Kathy Deitch, channeling the equally fabulous Kathy Bates).
What happens next, of course, is more rewritten history, especially with the ship’s captain Thomas Andrews only being referred to by the name of his cinematic portrayer, Victor Garber (an ultra-fey Frankie Grande) and Jack’s fate being decided by a Ru Paul-like iceberg (Jaye Alexander, who scores in a number of roles, including Peabo Bryson and Tina Turner). And sure enough, there’s even a very silly surprise happy ending tacked on for good measure.
As jokes land and jokes sink, there’s still the joy of hearing many of Dion’s greatest hits, a cavalcade of top-tier pop. As with “Mamma Mia!” and other jukebox musicals, if you take time to think beforehand where these songs will fit, you can probably guess the placements of such earworms as “Taking Chances,” “Tell Him,” “Because You Loved Me,” “I Drove All Night,” “The Prayer,” and “To Love You More.” And if you love these songs, it doesn’t really matter where they end up – just that they’re enthusiastically and often superbly sung!
Indeed, I don’t think I’m all by myself in finding “Titanique” the kind of campy fun needed to keep me afloat during some of America’s darkest days. All aboard?
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Marla Mindelle, Constantine Rousouli, Frankie Grande, Kathy Deitch, Ryan Duncan, Alex Ellis, John Riddle, Jaye Alexander, Courtney Bassett, Donnie Hammond, Dimitri Moise
Daryl Roth Theatre
20 Union Square
New York, NY 10003