Friday is embarkation day for 35 high school students.
That’s when the students board the legendary Titanic—and take to the freezing waters of the north Atlantic—during the school’s production of "Titanic: the Musical". During the show, they’ll recreate the lives of 44 passengers and crew on the ship’s maiden voyage.
It’s the sheer number of characters and the talent pool at Hillsborough High School that drew Director BJ Solomon and Producer Christine Micu to the show.
“This year we are very fortunate to have an extremely high number of talented students,” BJ Solomon, the musical director, said. “It didn’t seem right to have so many talented students and only feature four or five of them.”
As a result, it’s the largest cast the school musical’s had in recent years, even with students playing multiple roles.
“The first class, second class, third class passengers and the crew all have ensembles,” Solomon said. “In the opening song, each character goes through at least five costume changes. That’s just in the opening song.”
But the true main character, and linking element for each facet of the show, is the ship itself. And the school’s production uses four different sets to show different parts of the ship, as well as its inevitable sinking.
“Each of the different sets help tell the bigger Titanic story,” Solomon said. “We also do our best to show a quarter-mile long ship on a 44-foot stage.
“We go to about 44 different places on the ship, from the boiler room to the Promenade, to the staterooms,” he added.
The students aren’t just playing parts either. Each character in the play is based on an actual Titanic passenger, though the stories presented do have fictional portions, Solomon said.
“The cool thing about this is that everyone is real,” Ysabella Langdon, a sophomore who plays third-class passenger Kate Murphy, said. “You can find out if you actually died. It just has so much more depths than other musicals because you can connect to that.
“You want to do it justice,” she added. “You want to tell these people’s stories, especially if they died.”
In some cases, the fictional pieces of the character become the most complicated to portray, as junior Rachel Begleiter knows. She plays second-class passenger Alice Beane.
“They love to aspire to be the first class,” she said. “She wants to know what’s happening in first class. . . The most complicated thing is playing her not as a cartoon but a real character. She’s very lively and bubbly and sometimes that can be overplayed.”
An important point for the cast and crew is that the musical production is not the movie—as both Micu and Solomon have explained several times. At the same time, the high school’s production won’t exactly mimic the 1997 Broadway show. But the fact that it’s a high school production is part of the show’s appeal.
“That’s sort of what makes doing our productions really great,” Solomon said. “We don’t have unlimited budgets for doing things. It forces us to be creative. Otherwise, we’d fall into the realm of we can just do the typical high school musical fare.”