By Samuel L. Leiter . . .
In 2013, a magnificently cheesy show called Disaster! had ‘em peeing in the aisles when it opened at a dinky Off-Broadway venue. A jukebox musical parody of 1970s Hollywood disaster movies, like The Poseidon Adventure, it faced its own disaster when it moved to Broadway rather than to a more suitable Off-Broadway house. In its turbulent wake, though, we have an equally rambunctious, ingeniously creative, and awesomely performed disaster-movie spoof, Titanique, also playing to full houses at a dinky Off-Broadway house, one that allows its company to use the aisles as well as the stage proper. If it moves, as move it absolutely should, let’s hope it doesn’t crash into the same Broadway iceberg.
Which doesn’t mean it’s not Broadway quality. Several members of its 10-member cast have Broadway credits, and nothing they do is less than Broadway brilliant. So if you’re looking for an intimate show with no political, moral, or identity agenda, where you can sip a cool cocktail (there’s a bar), and simply take a load off, why not plunge down to the Asylum, the basement theater beneath the Gristede’s on West 26th and Eighth Avenue (home of the original Roundabout!)? You can come back up for air 100 intermission-less minutes later.
Titanique, of course—inventively staged by one of its three co-authors, Tye Blue—is a takeoff of Titanic, James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as the ship’s doomed lovers Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater, played here by Constantine Rousouli (another co-author) and Alex Ellis. Each is extraordinarily big-voiced, versatile, hilarious, charming, attractive, and lovable. Characters from the movie who reappear in the show are Rose’s wealthy fiancé, Cal (John Riddle, metrosexually perfect); her mother, Ruth (the cross-dressed Ross Duncan, delicious); Molly Brown (Kathy Deitch, a superb stand-in for the movie’s Kathy Bates); and the ship’s builder, Thomas Andrews, here—a running joke at the original actor’s expense—called Victor Garber (Frankie Grande, a singing-dancing, white-haired mite). (Show biz in-jokes? Are you kidding?)
The smashingly clever device that pulls the whole campy thing together is the presence of pop superstar Céline Dion, played by book co-author Marla Mindelle with an unforgettably spot-on combination of mirror-perfect physical/vocal authenticity and affectionately parodic snark. Céline first appears during a tour of Titanic artifacts, dressed unrecognizably as a bag lady before revealing herself in a slit-front sequined gown that, with her blonde wig, long face, and sculptured features makes her about as close a replica of the great French-Canadian diva as you’d ever want. Tongue never leaving cheek, she nails Céline’s distinctive accent and her self-congratulatory positivity (“Hello girlfriends!”) as she commandeers the tour to tell her own, wildly anachronistic version of her connection to the Titanic (she claims to have been there when the ship went down in 1912). Naturally, her tale satirizes everything about the ship’s ill-fated journey, with a surprise ending that further glorifies the legend that is Céline Dion.
The show’s good humor, with loads of campy gay shtick, and typically risqué business (wait for the eggplant-shaped vibrator), is helped by a talented, charismatic company that clearly loves what it’s doing, even—or it certainly looks like it—occasionally improvising so that fellow actors have to fight back their laughter.
The jukebox song choices (perhaps a bit over-amplified for such a small space), mostly Céline faves, include, among others, “I’m Alive,” “Tell Him,” “I Drove All Night,” “To Love You More,” “Because You Loved Me,” “All By Myself,” and, certainly, “My Heart Will Go On,” the movie’s earworm of a theme song. The eternal ham, she often inserts herself into a number, regardless of who’s singing it.
The songs are further supported by a sensational ensemble of three backup singers, Courtney Bassett, Donnie Hammond, and Dimitri Moise, each getting their moment in the spotlight. And then there’s the impressive Jaye Alexander, a big, bearded guy playing several roles, most notably the Iceberg, who arrives in the drag persona of a sparkly wigged Tina Turner: cue “River Deep, Mountain High.”
I could write about the simple, efficient bandstand setting (scenic consultant: Iron Bloom Creative Productions) on the wide but shallow stage (sightline obstructions included), the sprightly lighting by Paige Seiber, the fetching costumes of Eric Reynolds, and the joyful choreography of Ellenore Scott, but there’s no need to drown you with detail. I had a great time on my Titanic crossing and I think you will, too. There’s still time to get on board, so grab a life preserver, or a Margarita, and “Bon voyage!”
Titanique. Through September 25 at The Asylum (307 West 26th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues). www.asylumnyc.com
Photos: Emilio Madrid