Thursday, November 12, 2015

Theatre Thursday: 3 Reasons why 'The Proposal/The Night Was Alive' from 'Titanic' is the smartest duet in the Broadway canon

Last night, Kat sent me this amazing youtube performance ( I mean everything is perfect: the piano accompaniment, the voices, the duet)  and it had me (again) thinking about how much I love the musical 'Titanic.'   I repeat, this show has nothing to do with the stupid movie and it has one of the most moving and ingenious broadway scores I have ever heard.

I saw it 3 times in Toronto this past Spring and saw James Hume ( one of the fellows here, singing the part of Bride) as Etches. His voice is magnificent.

You also really need to hear the song with full orchestration, 

Here's why this song leapt into my top 3 broadway songs of all time when I first heard it:

1   1.) It is an interesting and unexpected duet: composer and lyricist  Maury Yeston said that he divided the story into groups of three ---2.) three love stories from across the classes b.) the builder, the owner and the captain of the ship c.) three men who knew that something was amiss:   Barrett the stoker knows that the speed they are going is ridiculous, Fleet, the lookout, has no binoculars and no moon to guide him, Bride cannot get ahold of anyone when he sends his SOS signal.   Unlike other popular male duets in the Broadway canon (think of Confrontation in Les Miserables), this doesn’t drive the plot forward in a blatant way, rather serves as a portentous moment threaded with melancholic music and positioned in a somewhat humorous moment.

     2.)The tune is at once wistful and whimsical( an almost impossible counterbalance) and excessively listenable: layering an interesting counterpart of foreshadow and temporary bond.   It uses its funny onomatopoeia but its undercut by a severe melancholy: most apparent in the orchestration which occasionally sits high and yearning octave above the musical line Bride is singing. The telegram that Barrett sends to his love ( inspired by a real one ) will be his last connection to her while the thousand voices that Bride relies on to assuage his feelings of loneliness will be silent when he needs them most and then transposed, at the end, to exemplify the football stadium of wails as passengers drowned.  

            3.) It follows a song of major exposition ( a dinner table sequence that posits information on the date and the speed of the ship )where most people might put a love duet:  Any other composer would have used this moment, I think, to focus on young Katie and Jim Farrell: a typical musical theatre love story. Instead, Yeston gives the second class married couple a duet ( in another interview he said that this is merely because the spoken dialogue he had for them was not loud enough to cover the sound of a mechanical elevator needed in the original stage production) and the Isidor and Ida Strauss a duet. Neither is predictable. In this moment, he tells a different love story: Bride loves his friggin telegraph and Barrett years for Darlene.  Most of the romance duets are interspersed into large, layered chorus numbers

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