Thursday, March 02, 2006

Titanic: The Feature

This article was originally supposed to run before the show opened, but space constraints necessitated that it not be run until the following week. This is the article I wrote about the projected opening of the show...

Steve Isaacson was like a little kid on Christmas morning. “What is finally starting to dawn on me is--this is our place,” Isaacson gushed. “This is ours! Look at all this ROOM! I am just so excited about this. My God this is real.”

He was giving me a backstage tour of the new Hoblit Theater for the Davis Musical Theater Company’s upcoming production of “Titanic: the Musical” which opens February 24. It is the largest show the company has ever presented, with 47 in the cast,

I made a comment to normally unflappable costumer, Jeanne Henderson about the number of costumes necessary for such a big show and how nice it must be to have the space to get them all done in a more timely fashion.

“It would be, except I had to move in the middle of it,” she said, rolling her eyes, explaining that now that the theater was completed and DMTC was moving out of its former storage unit, she had to move all of the costumes previously in storage over to the new building, at the same time that she was constructing new costumers for the current show.

Isaacson took me into the Barbara Jackson Costume Shop, which I had visited when the theater first opened. The cavernous space I had seen in November was now filled with costumes. Racks ran the entire length of the building, on both walls, two racks tall, the top rack nearly reaching the ceiling.

“It’s the largest walk-in closet in Davis,” Isaacson joked.

The racks were designed by Doug Hicke and Dixon High School shop class teacher, Bill Scott. The men designed a system which would allow the clothes to hang without touching the wall. The actual forming and welding of the “stand offs” was the final exam for Scott’s advanced class (80 students). The entire system was installed by Scott, Hicke and his father, and Henderson’s husband Alex. “For years the Davis Musical Theater Company has loaned costumes for Dixon High School drama productions,” said Scott. “I thought it was time for a little helping hand pay-back.”

As Isaacson and I passed to the other side of the theater, the cast was on stage rehearsing the opening number, while choreographer Ron Cisneros refined the blocking. Isaacson, who is also the musical director, stopped to listen. “We have some of the best singers we’ve ever had in this show,” he said, as the chorus reached the final notes of the number, the richness of the sound a wonderful demonstration of how full a chorus can sound when it includes 22 men (“that’s unheard of,” Isaacson said).

Some modifications had to be made to the open orchestra pit so that the stage could be moved forward, allowing the ship’s passengers to use a larger deck area. This resulted in cutting a hole in the floor for the conductor. “After my welcoming speech on stage, I turn and jump into the hole,” Isaacson laughed.

The special changes to the Hoblit Theater make it immediately obvious that “Titanic: The Musical” is a show which never could have been produced in DMTC’s former home, the Varsity Theater.

Time alone would have been a factor. The demands of such a huge show, with such a large, complicated set would never have been possible in a theater which the company only inhabited for a few weeks prior to opening. And then there are the kinds of semi-permanent changes which cannot be done in a rented space.

Technicians were nailing things to the specially built platforms on either side of the stage, which will act as the bridge and the first and 2nd class passengers’ decks. The two sections of the ship will be joined by a false proscenium (the arch that goes over the stage), tying the whole thing together into one big ship.

The set designer for “Titanic: the Musical” is Mike McElroy who, coincidentally, will also play Thomas Andrews, the builder of the Titanic, in the show itself. The multi-talented McElroy has performed in other shows, and designed lights for DMTC before, but this is his very first set design.

“I’ve worked on building a lot of sets,” he said, “but this is the first time I’ve ever designed a set.”

When the new season was announced last year, McElroy knew that this was a project he wanted to undertake. He also felt that he was ready.

“The last show I did was ‘Victor, Victoria,’ at Runaway Stage. It had a massive set. Watching the set designer there build that monstrosity was a big inspiration to me. It gave me a few ideas on construction techniques. I felt a lot more confident.”

McElroy began mentally planning his design nearly a year ago, although actual construction didn’t start until early January.

The tech crew is in the process of building the third piece of the set, a 35' by 12' wooden deck which will actually tilt as the ship begins to sink.

In preparation for sinking his Titanic, Isaacson has acquired a 6,000 lb winch that runs on a car battery. It’s his newest toy and Isaacson is very proud as he jokes about the technical workings, “It’s got gazunta circuitry. It’s got this giant thing so it unrolls and then you hook it up and then you just turn it and it has a remote control and it just pulls and lifts it.” (Got that?)

Again, this mechanical set-up would not have been possible at the Varsity Theater, as the winch must be firmly attached to the walls in order to begin to pull the large deck to a realistic slant.

“Let’s hope your set won’t sink, like the real Titanic,” I joked with McElroy

“Hopefully it will sink,” McElroy laughed, as he turned away from me, began singing, and walked onto the stage, to join the rest of the cast.

“Titanic: The Musical” opens on February 24 and runs weekends through March 19.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi! I know this was a year ago, but I went to see this show, like, 8 times. It was totally fantastic! McElroy did a great job with the set, I recall that the stage broke at the end of the last show! Thanks for the great comments.