Unsinkable musical at Westhampton Beach High School

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It will be a feast for the eyes and a story that pulls at the heartstrings. It’s the musical, “Titanic,” and it’s appearing on the stage of the Westhampton Beach High School this weekend. But don’t expect to see the love story between a boy from third class and a girl from first.

This “Titanic” offers a window into the stories of passengers from all three ticket classes on the ill-fated luxury liner and the tragedy that bound them together in life and death. Lending authenticity to the proceedings, the high school actors will be decked out in elaborate costumes borrowed from a New Jersey school that performed the musical last year. That production was honored as the Best Musical in the State of New Jersey by the Paper Mill Playhouse.

“We were extremely lucky to get these costumes,” said director Linda Howard. “We were able to borrow gowns, the captain’s and officers’ uniforms. There are 40 hand-sewn life jackets. There’s no way we would have been able to find costumes anything close to this. The students are going to look great.”

The New Jersey connection was made when Ms. Howard was performing at St. Mark’s Church in Westhampton. A casual conversation with a teenage singer led to the discovery that the singer’s New Jersey high school had just performed “Titanic.” What’s more, her relative, Sara Jane Giere, who lives on the East End, helped sew some of the 40 life jackets.

Ms. Howard asked about the possibility of borrowing some of the costumes and Mrs. Giere made it happen. In fact, Mrs. Giere drove to New Jersey with her husband to pick up all the costumes to make the appropriation even easier, said Ms. Howard.

This weekend, a cast of 50 will take the stage clad in costumes to help conjure the 1912 maiden voyage of White Star Line’s Titanic from England to New York. The play was written by Peter Stone with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. The play is based on the true story of the ship’s sinking after crashing into an iceberg and the deaths of most of those on board.

Unlike the popular 1997 movie, “Titanic” looks at the lives of passengers from first, second and third class. Many from third class were heading to New York in search of a better life. Second class had many passengers who had been diverted from first class on other liners that had cancelled their crossings because of a coal strike.

The first class was chock full of celebrity millionaires of the day—John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, Macy’s owner Isidor Straus and many others. Also in first class was White Star Line’s managing director, J. Bruce Ismay, who came up with the original concept for the mega ocean liner, and ship builder Thomas Andrews.

The play examines the decisions many made when the ship was sinking. Most of the characters and the events are based on actual people and events, since much is known about the tragic accident. The Westhampton Beach students hit the research books before taking to the stage. Students interviewed said it helped them connect with the play and with the clash of socio-economic classes and immigration issues of the day.

Having extensive background on the people and what happened on the Titanic was a special part of the play. So is the music and being part of a large cast. For others, the play provided insight into what America represents for those who want to immigrate.

“I just loved all of the hope,” said Marysa Sheren, who plays a third class passenger. “Right up to the end, there were such positive feelings about America. It was the land of opportunity and I love that imagery. With everything going on right now, it’s a perfect reminder that America still represents opportunity for many people.”

“Titanic” opened at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on April 23, 1997, and closed on March 21, 1999 after 804 performances. It won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 1997. It has been performed around the globe and translated into five languages.

“Titanic” will be performed at the Westhampton Beach High School auditorium, Lilac Avenue, Westhampton Beach on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 2 p.m. Admission is free.

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