MANSFIELD — The most famous ship in history will set sail at the Renaissance Theatre this weekend, telling the story of infamous, unimaginable disaster.
The musical "Titanic" will show for a limited run at the Renaissance, happening live and in-person for one weekend only, May 21 to 23. For those not ready to attend events in person, the Renaissance will also be live-streaming each performance.
The story is haunting and familiar: The RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard, more than 1,500 died.
The musical swept the 1997 Tony Awards, winning all five it was nominated for including the award for Best Musical and Best Score. Although it premiered in the same year as the film of the same name, the musical and film have no connection.
There may be no "heart of the ocean" in the musical version, but make no mistake - there is no shortage of heart on stage. Nearly every character portrayed in "Titanic" is based off of a real person who was on the ship in 1912, with much material taken from firsthand accounts of the sinking.
"You're never with one class of people for too long, so as a result you get to know the entire story of what happened on that journey. It gives you even more people to connect with and care about," said Ryan Shealy, operations director at the Renaissance.
"And you have no idea who actually lives or dies until you get to the end, because that's really what happened. It is very human, very emotional; the stakes are incredibly high because it's life or death."
Shealy plays William Murdoch, the First Officer on the Titanic who was in charge on the bridge when the ship collided with an iceberg. According to Shealy, his character does not handle this burden well - but perhaps the bulk of this blame is misplaced.
"Over the course of the entire show, it slowly unfolds and you see all the little mistakes that add up," Shealy said. "No one person is really to blame, and yet everyone is also to blame."
Instead of one central (fictional) love story, the audience of "Titanic" will spend time with many love stories that are based on authentic relationships. One such story is that of Ida and Isidor Straus, who perished together as the ship sank.
"We know from many eyewitness accounts that she refused to leave without him," said Lori Turner, who plays Ida. "She is one of four first-class women who perished on the ship. He refused to get on (a lifeboat) unless all the women and children were accounted for, and she refused to go without him."
In many ways, this real-life aspect of the musical "Titanic" makes the story better than, say, a fictional Blockbuster film retelling.
"This didn't happen yesterday, and yet it's such a compelling story that more than 100 years later, people are still fascinated by it," Turner said. "And this particular retelling is beautifully done."
The Renaissance's version of the musical "Titanic" is told as a smaller, more intimate ensemble production. A cast of more than 20 actors play all the roles against an abstract set design, projections of the actual ship and passengers, and orchestrations designed to make the score sound as if it was being played by the ship's band.
Joining Shealy and Turner on stage are local talents Michael Miller as Captain E.J. Smith, Ryan Shreve as Thomas Andrews, Scott Smith as Barrett, Mark Crumrine as Isidor Straus, Leah Gesouras as Kate Mullins, Miss Ohio 2020 Caroline Grace Williams, and even her dog, Oakley.
Seating is limited for this weekend's production due to health restrictions because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, for director Michael Thomas, it's worth it to be back on stage.
"When we saw it would be available to do with a limited audience, we jumped at the chance," he said. "It's like we were thirsty in the desert, everyone was so anxious to get back on stage. It's a very epic story, and we really wanted to put that up on its feet."
For more information about "Titanic" at the Renaissance, visit rentickets.org or call the box office at 419-522-2726.