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The unlikely sinking of RMS Titanic continues to vex, sadden and fascinate - more than 90 years after the great ship went down during her maiden voyage, less than two hours after hitting an iceberg.

A huge cast, fabulous pit orchestra, inspired lighting and eye-catching costumes brought the story to life Thursday at the Alberta Bair Theater. "Titanic" the musical, like the ship herself, is brash and bold and eventually quietly subdued.

The staging is dramatic, the voices operatic and sweeping. The costume changes are staggering and, hooray for that divine if dying essential to the perfect musical: the well-tuned orchestra. Always a fan of the pit, bravos right off to conductor and musical director Laura Bergquist. And how lovely to hear cello, violin, reeds, brass, keyboard and percussion - all precisely played.

"Titanic" tells the story of the colorful and poignant "real life" event - from the point of view of the three classes of passengers and the officers and crew who took the ill-fated trip from Southampton. It earned five Tony Awards in 1997 and was the best thing to hit the Great White Way in a long time.

The demise of the grand ship in less than five days captivates the imagination. So many lives lost - so many dreams unfulfilled. Bold staging, and resounding lyrics honor the unwitting players in the tragedy, and the energetic company - pros all - bring the story alive. What makes it work are the many vignettes which define the individual loyalty, energy and ambition of the passengers.

The two-night Big League Theatricals Production caps with a Friday night performance. About 1,250 took in the show Thursday.

Maury Yeston's music and lyrics convey the romance of the era - and Peter Stone's book captures the dignity, hopes, pride and fears of the passengers. Having crossed the Atlantic more than a half-dozen times and recently viewed the "Titanic Artifact Exhibit" at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix, I felt strangely connected to the story and watched with wonder as the curtain rose on this splendid, old-fashioned musical.

Expressively written, it begins topside with the April 10, 1912 launching - all three classes showing their boarding passes. It quickly moves to the boiler room. Much unfolds before the ending, with the inevitable sinking and the survivors' impressions as those few board the Carpathia and search the horizon, trying to make sense of the loss.

The clever set with its moving portholes and slowly listing decks frame the handsomely costumed and memorable passengers whom we meet: a second-class hobnobber who longs to be first, a romancing couple in third class, the aristocrats in first class, the earnest stewards, bellboy, and the lookout who spots the iceberg from the crow's nest.

Dancers Denise Payne and Peter Leskowicz portray the DaMicos, arched and artful as the ship sets sail. The metaphor for style and class is established by the stunning dancers while the dignity of all three classes and the devoted crew is preserved by the actors throughout the story.

The lighting design is the prettiest to inhabit the ABT in years.

If you go: "Titanic" plays the Alberta Bair Theater tonight at 8 p.m. A few tickets remain. Call (406) 256-6052.

"Godspeed Titanic" by the company is a rouser in the first-act, but there are many splashy production numbers leading up to the first-act closer, when the iceberg hits.

Touching and intimate moments are preserved in a charming proposal scene and a rousing ragtime number is full of the joie de vivre that must have imbued the festivities of those first couple nights.

Many of the actual passengers are played, including Bruce Ismay, the Astors and the Strauses (moving portrayed, as the older romantics).

Romance is a theme throughout, including a steerage proposal and the bride's acceptance - and "up top", a wonderful, raucous ragtime scene capture the music and costumes of the time.

Daniel Stewart deserves raves for his direction and choreography. The entire company is splendid - tight and supportive of one another. Not a weak link and magnificent voices. The pace is exciting. The production numbers advance the plot in a bold way. The intimate scenes have truth and meaning.

Everyone who loves a Broadway musical will enjoy "Titanic." But I have a sinking feeling there just aren't enough seats left.

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