Remember Titanic? Those of a certain age will recall the hype and hysteria of James Cameron’s 1997 film starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Lines formed at movie theaters around the world, many being turned away by sold-out notices. Others would see it multiple times, forming a fan base that would endure to this day.
Marla Mindelle, Constance Rousouli, and Tye Blue were among the legions of loyalists who would help it become the highest grossing movie at the time. (It was the first film in history to reach the one billion dollar mark.)
Years later, this trio of working actors decided to write a parody of the film and Titanique (★★★★☆) was born. It began as a humble, one-night-only staged concert at Los Angeles’ Sorting Room Theater in December 2017. New York City’s Green Room played host to the show in 2018, where it played for a weekend in August and returned for an encore performance in November.
Audiences were hooked, but — apart from a streamed presentation during 2020’s lockdown — it would take four years and some major Broadway producers to create a full production of the inspired send-up.
On June 14, 2022, the Off-Broadway production premiered in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood at the modest Asylum Theatre. After rave reviews and multiple extensions, it sailed east to Union Square, reopening at the Daryl Roth Theatre in November.
After nearly a year, the ship is still in tip-top, hilarious shape despite numerous cast changes. Although it maintains the general plot of the now classic blockbuster film, Titanique adds a surprise guest to the roster of passengers: “Celine Dion,” who serves as the narrator and scene stealer aboard the ill-fated vessel.
Mindelle and Rousouli originally embodied the roles of Dion and Jack Dawson, respectively, while Blue directed. The three friends created a sui generis dynamic that comes only through the longevity of friendship and collaboration. It’s difficult to replicate. Still, their replacements, Jackie Burns as Dion and Michael Williams as Jack add their own flavor to the show’s over-the-top lunacy.
Cayleigh Capaldi is wonderful as Rose, a wealthy ingenue caught in a love puzzle between working-class Jack and her overbearing fiancé, Cal (Brandon Contreras) whose mind is fixed more on getting to New York for a hair appointment and checking his phone for Grindr messages.
Rose’s mother, Ruth Dewitt Bunker, is played with delightful glee by Russell Daniels, whose campy drag skewers the pampered, privileged class. Marcus Antonio brings the calamitous iceberg to life in a no-holds-barred, energetic performance that evokes the late Tina Turner. It’s hard to imagine that Bowen Yang didn’t glean inspiration for his now infamous SNL Weekend Update sketch where he played the iceberg that hit the Titanic. Both are divine comic inspirations.
Titanique has cultivated a similar passion as its source material and it’s easy to understand why: It’s an absolute joy. While it certainly caters to an LGBTQ crowd (Mindelle and Rousouli are both out, gay performers), it can be enjoyed by anyone who simply wants to unwind and laugh non-stop for 90 minutes. Repeat viewings only increase the appreciation.
Celine Dion devotees will surely lap it up. Music supervisor, orchestrator, and arranger Nicholas James Connell ensures it with a fresh take on every hit from her songbook. Too many jukebox shows cram so many tunes in a laborious effort to please fans that they feel out of place within the show’s storyline.
Here, they all seamlessly lock into place, each delivered with showstopping power by this hugely competent cast. Blue keeps a watchful eye over the parody, which could easily go off course. Yet his cast knows when to finesse a comic bit and when to reign it in.
Titanique is scheduled to run through January 2024, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it keeps sailing. It has a downtown sensibility with the production value of an uptown theater show and purports to be nothing more than sheer, unadulterated fun. As we look ahead to next year’s political landscape, we’re going to need a lot of frivolous escapism. Let’s hope this ship continues to bring that relief.
Titanique is playing through Jan. 7, 2024 at the Daryl Roth Theatre, 101 E. 15th St. in New York City. Tickets start at $58. Visit www.titaniquemusical.com.
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