Saturday, April 14, 2012


Benjamin Guggenheim from Titanic: The Musical
Is it possible, do you think, that we have this coming? I can’t help remembering something Balzac wrote. He said, “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime. So let’s confess it. Who wants to start?”

I was not very familiar with Titanic: the Musical until our community theater put on a production in the Spring of 2012. When I was approached about appearing in it, in my hubris I agreed and thought I could handle this with no problem. Equipped with a set of song and dance skills that are a bit below professional standards, I soon found myself a bit over my head.

I quickly found myself like Sam Beckett from an episode of Quantum Leap where I leaped into the body of (some Broadway actor, I don’t know, Tommy Tune maybe?) a song and dance man with the pressure to perform at a high level.

I was playing the millionaire “playboy” Benjamin Guggenheim who (spoiler alert!) goes down with the ship after getting his French mistress safely on the lifeboat.

These are the songs I had to learn. (All the music throughout the show is very good, much of it quite inspiring.)

Act I
“Godspeed Titanic”
The opening. The words to this one came fairly easily, but I found it really hard to sing in spots. I hear people around me singing it so beautifully. I just hope I don’t mess it up too much.

“What a Remarkable Age This Is.”
A very fun song. I do enjoy a lot of the lyrics in this one.

A fellas invented see through film, he calls it cellophane, another has built a parachute for jumping out of an airplane. Remarkable things flow endlessly throughout the human brain. Indeed and what a remarkable age this is.”

It was just a question of learning blocking on this one…and also how to properly put on a cummerbund.

“Ladies Maid”
The easiest part to learn, but did point out another problem. In this scene, I am not playing Benjamin Guggenheim, I am playing a third class passenger who is an aspiring millionaire. The problem is changing into a third class outfit after wearing a tuxedo after changing out my boarding outfit from the first scene. After this, I put back on my boarding outfit…not to mention wearing pajamas in scene two before once again putting on my boarding outfit. It’s not the lines or even the music I was most worried about-It’s the damn changing of clothes!

“Ladies Maid” is my favorite scene that I’m in the whole show. I have my only solo bit here.

I want to be a millionaire! Millionaire in America strike it rich and spend the fortune I amass!”

Just hope my voice holds out as I don’t have a spare.

“The Latest Rag”
This song has the frightening possibility that I may have to dance. Yes, I’m dancing or something approximating dancing. This went from being my favorite song in the show to the one I dread the most. I had a friend who saw the show who said it was so great how you were pretending you couldn’t dance and your partner kept telling you what to do. Note to friend-I wasn’t pretending!

No Moon #2
Well there’s an iceberg dead ahead. Mr. Guggenheim and friends are playing a friendly game of cards and everyone is on the stage singing dramatically until we strike it. A wonderfully staged scene among many wonderfully staged scenes from our production.

Act II

Opening of Act II
Not a song…but I have to begin Act II by banging on John Jacob Astor’s door. So essentially if I forget my first line, we can’t do act 2. No pressure!

“Dressed in Your Pyjamas in the Grand Salon”
This has become about my favorite song in the whole show and not just because I get to sing it wearing pajamas! I wanted to do the scene carrying a teddy bear, but had to remind myself that I was playing Benjamin Guggenheim, not Thurston Howell the Third! I have some fun lines from a brief duet.

Dressed in your pyjamas in the grand salon, looks to be bizarre to the extreme. Things would improve if the steward opens the bar!”

“Getting Into the Lifeboats”
Act frantic! The ship is going down! Don’t forget your cues. There is one part where I’m the only one singing. Of course, we’re high up on deck and in my one song line I’m basically going to just scream so the audience can hear.

Mr. Guggenheim then gets to repeat the quote from Balzac from the top of this page before going down with the ship.

Will be singing as one of the dead. (Alas, poor Benjamin did not survive the journey)

This has been an amazing experience. The musical talent around me has been inspiring (and a little intimidating) The sets were amazing (How’d they do that!). And the director’s vision for this project was titanic in every way.

Benjamin Guggenheim from James Cameron’s Titanic: “We are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down as gentlemen-but we would like a brandy.”

Since this is a 1001 movie blog, I do have to mention James Cameron’s Titanic. Of course, it won countless awards, set box office records and had the now famous Jack and Rose love story, so any criticism I have of it will fall upon deaf ears, I’m sure. Not that I don’t find it a very worthwhile movie, with a pretty amazing recreation of the Titanic disaster. That being said, I found that there were so many stories going from the ship, the relentless focus on the Jack/Rose love story kept me asking what about the other stories from the ship? I mean the film is over three hours long! What about the millionaires? What about more from Mr. Andrews or the Captain? Where is the second class during all this? I would have preferred more of an ensemble piece, sort of like Nashville. That’s it! Robert Altman’s Titanic. Keep Jack and Rose, but just as one of many stories.
Favorite character not named Guggenheim: David Warner as Cal Hockley’s evil ex-policeman bodyguard.

Benjamin Guggenheim from A Night to Remember
: “We have dressed now in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen…If anything should happen to me I would like my wife to know that I behaved decently.”

The 1958 film, A Night to Remember, based on the book by Walter Lord is more of an ensemble piece. The closest thing the film has to a main character is Mr. Lightoller, played by Kenneth More. The funny thing is that one of the criticism distributors in the United States had with this movie is that there wasn’t really a star, (James Cameron made sure with his film that this wouldn’t be an issue) but I agree with the assessment that the ship is the star. Yes, they get some of the technical points wrong, as they didn’t know the boat split in half until years later. That didn’t bother me too much, as the stories on board were still moving.
Favorite character not named Guggenheim: The drunk cook who casually floats to safety on deck chairs and survives none the worse for wear.

And the winner is: A Night to Remember. Yes, you should still see the James Cameron film, but let us remember A Night to Remember.

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