When people hear that Jeff Hocking is directing Titanic: The Musical, they often have one question.
Is this the same story on which the movie was based?
No, Hocking said, this version doesn’t tell of the love story between Rose and Jack, portrayed by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. But like its film counterpart, `Titanic: The Musical,` a Tony Award-winning show, features a love story among passengers, as well as tales of folks common and famous.
So while some people may be hesitant to invest their time in a show whose ending is so well-known, Hocking stressed that `Titanic: The Musical` is a story about people, not so much a sinking a ship.
`I think there’s something new and different in this journey, and it’s really beautiful,` he said.
The journey kicks off Wednesday, July 8, when the Family Players of Northeastern New York put on the first performance of `Titanic: The Musical` at Tawasentha Park in Guilderland. The show runs through Sunday, July 12, with performances at 7:30 each night.
This is one of Family Players’ biggest productions ever. The cast numbers about 70, with another few dozen people working backstage or sitting in on the orchestra. Hocking said that the show attracted people who wanted to be in `Titanic: The Musical,` which is not often staged locally, as well as people who just enjoy community theater regardless of the show.
True to its name, Family Players also attracts a lot of families, he said.
Casey Kalica and her mom, Mary, for instance, are both involved with the show. Casey plays Kate McGowan, while her mom is a co-producer.
The two first worked with Family Players about 15 years ago, when a then-5-year-old Casey landed a part in `Annie.` She’s now a student at Hartwick College in Oneonta, but she was excited to come home to be in `Titanic.`
`I like that I can be someone else,` she said.
In this show, she’s an Irish girl who is trying to make a better life for herself. It’s one of the show’s fictional roles.
In real life, Kalica credited her mom with making her a better actress.
`I love working with my mom,` she said. `She always gives me hints on how to improve myself.`
For her part, Mary said it’s been a thrill to watch her daughter grow up on the stage.
As much fun as the pair has, though, putting on a play is hard work, especially one the size and scope of `Titanic.`
Mary Kalica and co-producer Julie Phillips are in charge of securing the funding for the show, which pays for everything from the royalties to the orchestra to the elaborate sets. Kalica said one of the chief income sources for Family Players is the ads that local businesses buy.
`We have the cast solicit ads,` she said. `With almost 70 people, that adds up.`
Still, Hocking is quick to admit that a community production like this one can’t have all the bells and whistles that the Broadway show did. For instance, the Broadway version used an 8-ton lift to tilt the stage at a 45-degree angle when the Titanic was sinking.
`We allude to the sinking,` he said with a laugh.
Phillips, who described her job as `really from nuts to bolts,` also oversaw the audition process with Mary Kalica. Despite having such a large cast, no one was handed a role.
`We auditioned for everything,` Phillips said. `Thankfully, a lot of people showed up.`
Phillips said she has been impressed with how seriously people have taken their roles, with those who are portraying real people devoting a lot of time to researching their characters.
Keith Searles plays one of those real people: Isidor Strauss, a German immigrant who co-owned Macy’s with his brother. Searles looked at old pictures of Strauss and read up on him to get a feel for the man who sings during the show that he will not take a seat on a lifeboat ahead of a younger man.
`Because it’s a real character, I wanted to honor that character,` said Searles, who recently visited a monument to Strauss in New York City.
Strauss is part of the show’s great love story with his wife, Ida, portrayed by Janice Walz. When her husband doesn’t want to get off the ship, Isa balks, too, even though both were first-class passengers and extended preferential treatment.
`It’s touching,` Searles said. `It’s not a fluffy musical. It has meaty stories.`
Hocking said the songs beautifully complement those stories — `The music is absolutely jaw dropping. There are songs that I can’t listen to without getting choked up,` he said.
`It never ceases to get me,` he said.
While some characters die, Hocking believes `Titanic: The Musical` is ultimately an uplifting story, a sentiment Phillips echoed.
`It’s really about making the most of your journey,` she said. `You never know what’s going to happen.`
Family Players of Northeastern New York’s production of `Titanic: The Musical` runs from Wednesday to Saturday, July 8 to 12, at the Guilderland Performing Arts Center in Tawasentha Park, Route 146, Guilderland. Tickets are $10. For information, visit www.familyplayersofneny.com.“