One hundred and ten years ago, more than 2200 passengers and crew boarded a supposedly unsinkable ship. The Titanic was equipped with what were advanced safety features, such as watertight compartments and remote-activated watertight doors. These features contributed to its reputation. But as we all know now, the idea that the Titanic was unsinkable and the safest ship afloat at the time, was incorrect.
Just four days into its maiden voyage in April 1912, lookouts spotted an iceberg. While First Officers ordered the ship to be steered around the iceberg and the engines to be reversed, it was too late. Within moments of the ship being struck, the watertight compartments were breached, and it soon became very clear that the ship, and those on board, were doomed.
Within a few hours, the ship had been torn in two and those still on board found themselves in lethally cold water.
Documentaries, films and musicals have been produced to share the stories of those on board. And while some have taken huge dramatic licence, others stay true to the real people who boarded the Titanic but never came home.
One such production is Titanic the Musical – based on real people aboard the most legendary ship in the world.
Martin Croft explained that his character, Isidor Strauss, who owned Macy’s with his brother, had boarded the ship alongside his wife, Ida. The pair decided to join the voyage, as the story goes, for the sea air to improve Ida’s health.
Both Croft and Natalie Gamsu, who plays Ida, explained that while she had the opportunity to escape on board a lifeboat, Ida ultimately chose to stay with her husband.
“He wouldn’t leave because he wanted to give his position on the lifeboat to younger people, and then she wouldn’t leave either,” Croft told The AJN.
Gamsu, who was born and raised in Namibia before studying drama in South Africa and moving to New York to find her cabaret and musical theatre feet, said the same.
“They had been married for over 40 years… for her there was no point in surviving without Isidor,” she said.
While many people associate the Titanic with James Cameron’s 1997 masterpiece, Croft explained that not only is the story different, but it’s a completely different score.
“You won’t be hearing the Celine Dion song,” he laughed.
The musical theatre stalwart, who has been performing professionally since he was in school and found out he had Jewish heritage later in life, described the music as grand and powerful, and “very symphonic”, and explains that the story is quite a dense one, filled with tragedy, beauty and ultimately hope.
“It has a grand purpose. For something that we all know has a tragic ending, it has a hope to it and a gloriousness about it. And I think a lot of that is to do with the music,” he said.
Gamsu refers to the story as “gritty”, not only in terms of the sheer amount of people who died but also in the class system that was so overtly used.
“It’s always about money,” she said. “They were pushing the ship to go faster, and so often disasters happen because somebody is going to make more money if you push it.”
But for the grit in the story, Gamsu also agrees with Croft, calling the score “lush” and describing the song that she and Croft sing together affirming their love for each other as exquisite.
“There is a really beautiful duet called Still, it’s their final love song together. Every time I listen to it, I start to weep,” she said, saying that for anyone, it is normal to consider whether you would make the same selfless decision that both Isidor and Ida made in staying.
Both Croft and Gamsu agree that the story is just as relevant today as it was in 1912.
“Human stories are always relevant,” Gamsu said.
Croft agreed, saying, “We as a human race face disasters all the time, whether it’s an earthquake, a plane going down, terrorism … we can absolutely relate to what [being on the ship] would be like. We all have that ephemeral thing that we could be here and gone in a minute.”
“It has a grand purpose. For something that we all know has a tragic ending, it has a hope to it and a gloriousness about it. And I think a lot of that is to do with the music” – Martin Croft
When talking about the cast, that includes the great Anthony Warlow, both Croft and Gamsu were quick to praise the incredibly diverse group.
“It’s sort of what the ship was,” Croft explained. “It was a mixture of all different things – class, race – to be able to reflect that today, in probably an even more diverse way, is just wonderful.”
Gamsu, who referred to Warlow’s voice as “a remarkable instrument” that she never gets tired of listening to, said the beauty of the cast is that they can all educate each other in one way or another.
“I love being in companies where there are people of all ages because I learn a lot from people in their 20s and 30s. The energy, the kind of training that young people have had now that I was certainly not privy to at all. They’re so incredibly skilled on so many levels and quick, and their music reading skills are just incredible,” she said.
“And then I love working with people who are my age and older also, because there’s something about that kind of weathered experience that is in your body, where you’ve done eight shows a week for 40 years. And that’s not book learned.
“We’ve all got so much to learn from each other. I’m incredibly excited about that.”
Titanic the Musical: In Concert is showing at Melbourne Town Hall, November 4-6. For tickets, titanicthemusical.com.au