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Titanic’s joy and despair takes center stage at the Belfry Theatre

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 On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic – the largest passenger steamship in the world at the time – left Southampton, England, for New York City. Just four days into her maiden voyage, the ship struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean at 11:40 p.m. The ship sank at 2:20 a.m. April 15, 1912, resulting in the deaths of 1,517 people – one of the deadliest maritime disasters in history.

For the next two weekends, audiences can enjoy the contagious excitement of the ship’s passengers as they set sail for “a new world,” and the anguish as loved ones are separated and fates are realized on stage at the Belfry Theatre, 10690 Greenfield Ave.

“Titanic: The Musical” is particularly near and dear to the hearts of a number of the cast members. Besides being the favorite musical of a number of cast members, the Titanic is part of the history for actor Eric Brotheridge, whose ex-wife is the great granddaughter of a Carpathia passenger.

“My daughter is bragging at school about it,” Brotheridge said of the family’s history and his participation in the show.

Located 58 miles away, Captain Arthur Henry Rostron changed Carpathia’s course and came to Titanic’s rescue. At 4 a.m., Carpathia arrived at the scene after working her way through dangerous ice fields and took on 705 survivors from Titanic’s lifeboats. Unfortunately, Brotheridge’s ex-wife’s great grandmother was deceased prior to her birth and never heard her story about the voyage. Brotheridge said she was coming to America from Germany.

“It’s family history – no story around it,” he said.

With his connection to the ship, Brotheridge saw it fitting to fulfill a vow he made to Jane Campbell, one of the Belfry’s founding members, to act in a performance.

“This is my first time on stage since my senior year of high school,” he said. “It’s amazing to see the size of the cast in the space – the ins and outs in coordinating.”

The musical is also a part of Rob Lawson’s history. The Noblesville resident said he saw the original Broadway show 15 years ago and “fell in love with the show” and “Barrett’s Song.”

“I knew I wanted to use it when I proposed,” he said.

Lawson did just that; after he sang the song, he got on one knee at 10th and Conner streets and proposed to his wife, Jeanne. For the Belfry performances, Lawson plays Fredrick Barrett and gets to sing the song again.

“It’s very special for me to do it on stage,” he said. “It is going to be an emotional time for me (when my wife comes to the show). It has a lot of meaning to me.”

Lawson and fellow actor Geoff Lynch described the musical as “a powerful show” both wanted to participate in when the production was announced.

“The music is incredible. It is extremely challenging and very dramatic music,” said Lynch. “What you have is a cross section of cultures at that time. You see the different cultures mirror our current culture. When the tragedy hits, it hits everyone and all are affected. A lot of the characters you get to identify with have different reactions to the tragedy.”

The performance of the musical comes on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic and just a month after the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia shipwrecked. While the Belfry plans their productions a year in advance, the cast is sensitive to the timeliness of the Costa Concordia.

“Many people went through the same thing as the Titanic – panic, people trying to get off the ship. A lot of things break down when people get in that mood,” Lynch said.

“(The 100th anniversary) is part of the emphasis of doing it now,” added director Ryan Shelton. “It hits home a little bit more. It’s a different show. Anytime you do history and people die, you have to be sensitive.”

Shelton and Christy Clinton first saw “Titanic: The Musical” at Myers Dinner Theatre in Hillsboro, Ind. When the discussion first began about the possibility of producing the show, Shelton thought “no way, it’s huge. You have to be joking; it’s not a realistic thing.”

“We loved the show, particularly the music. As we started talking about it, we realized it was an intimate show. Yes, the ship sinks, but this musical is about the people – the real people. As a director, I am looking for stories I can tell. I love this period in history and I like the challenge of telling such a big story in an intimate way.”

Keeping the focus on the characters and stories, Shelton decided to downplay the stage.

“We’ve been working on this show for two and a half years,” he said. “We designed the set and kept it simple … It’s not a giant ship. Our goal was to be about the people; to focus on the people. You know what’s going to happen to them.”

Unlike other musicals that comprise lead actors, “Titanic: The Musical” features vignettes and lacks a title role.

“You follow the story of different characters through their little stories,” Shelton said, adding the show incorporates comedy as a relief to the dramatic plot. “Trying to make jokes brings levity. They use jokes to try and lift up other people’s spirits. We use levity to make the despair work.”

“Titanic: The Musical” cast members include: Doug Peet, Robin Peet, Thom Brown, Daniel T. Shockley, Rob Lawson, Mark Tumey, Duane Leatherman, Elaine Wagner, Ken Christie, Kelly BeDell, Ron Harris, Carla Crandall, Geoff Lynch, Simon Lynch, Gewn Lynch Clark Rulon, Tamara Rulon, Betsy Bullis, Sally Carter, Susan Townsend, Daniel Shock, Mark Stroud, Evan Elliott and Becca Wenning.

The ensemble is comprised of Kelli Conkin, Gabrielle Rulon, Zoe Schwab, Lily Schwab, Kimber Stancato, Dana Lesh, Linda Stroud, Bud Moore, Diane Reed, Maddie Shelton, Alice Lawson, Clara Lawson, Madelyn Merrell and Gloria Merrell.

The cast also includes 12 actors making their debut at the Belfry. They include James H. Williams, Josh Gibson, Brian McCarley, Eric Brotheridge, Kevin Shadle, Lindsay Davis, Brittany Davis, Ben Elliott, Brad Miller, Abby Morris, Nikki Lynch and Spencer Martin.

“It’s good to get new people. New faces add a level of excitement,” Shelton said.


By Robert Herrington

Robert is the managing editor of Current in Noblesville.