Marla Mindelle on celebrating Celine Dion in 'Titanique'
Mindelle plays the Grammy Award-winning artist off Broadway in the musical parody of the Oscar-winning film.
"Love can touch us one time, and last for a lifetime," sings Celine Dion in "My Heart Will Go On." Marla Mindelle knows how true that is. She's been a Dion fan "as long as [she's] been living," and as a teenager, the actress would spend countless hours "trying to belt 'All by Myself' in [her] bedroom over and over and over again."
Now she's channeling her love for the singer in Titanique, a revisionist parody version of James Cameron's Titanic film. Mindelle stars as a goofy, scene-stealing version of Dion, who narrates her own recollection of the story of Jack and Rose, filled with all Dion's greatest hits and mile-a-minute pop culture jokes.
From a planned four-month run from June to September 2022, Titanique has gone on (and on) to become a surprise hit and is now running at the Daryl Roth Theatre through May. Mindelle has been with the production since its inception in Los Angeles six years ago, and also co-wrote the show with Constantine Rousouli and Tye Blue.
The musical has always been a celebration of Dion and her music and became even more so when Dion announced her diagnosis with Stiff Person Syndrome, which hinders her ability to perform. (She recently postponed her tour due to this diagnosis.)
Performing a parody show centered on Dion might seem tricky in light of the news, but for Mindelle, continuing with the show is the best way to honor her.
"When I heard that news, I said to myself, this is no longer about you; this is about her," Mindelle said. "You need to do this for her because if she could, she would be performing eight times a week as well. So it's your responsibility to now channel her, be a refuge for her fans, and in some ways, make sure her legacy and her gift live on."
The cast must be doing something right. Theatregoers, including those who have seen Dion live or plan to, have come to the show for their "Celine fix." They've gotten it, thanks in large part to Mindelle.
"I'm not her, obviously," Mindelle said. "I don't sing as well as her. I don't have a 30-year Grammy Award-winning career. But if I can be a little vessel for her [while] she gets rest and she gets better, and people can come up to me and say this is just like seeing a Celine Dion concert, then I feel like I've done something right."
Mindelle spoke with New York Theatre Guide about growing up a Dion fan, celebrating Dion at Titanique, and what she hopes to say to Dion herself.
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What does it mean to you to be singing Celine's songs, as her, right now?
It's incredibly meaningful. She is courageous for even opening up to the public about her diagnosis. It's a very scary thing. And she literally has an album called Courage. She's been such a strong person throughout her entire life, and I honestly feel very humbled that while she is getting the care she needs, while she's getting stronger to come back and perform — we can be a respite. We can be like a little Band-Aid, a little relief for the fans that have been trying to see her for the past couple years.
And that's already been happening. People from Ireland, from Germany, all over the world have stopped by to see the show and said, "It's been so wonderful in the meantime, while she has been getting rest and getting better, that we can come to see your show. The songs are incredible, and you remind me so much of her."
How long have you been a Celine Dion fan?
Since I was born. She really hit in my youth, so that '90s era of nostalgia — Whitney [Houston], Mariah [Carey], Celine Dion — that was my Father, Son, Holy Spirit. She taught me how to sing, you know? My voice is very musical theatre, but honestly, her songs are very theatrical, too.
Recently she's had her, what I like to call, "Celine-aissance" — re-releasing Courage, going back on tour. She was in so many pop culture memes, so many articles. She's really reinvented herself in the way of Madonna or Lady Gaga. She's always changing and she's also, at the same time, such an incredible spirit and full of joy, and it's just infectious. As I grow up and Celine grows, she's still just as popular as she used to be.
What's your favorite Celine Dion song to perform?
My favorite song in performance is actually the end of "My Heart Will Go On," which I can't believe I'm saying because it is literally one of the most vocally challenging things I've ever sung in my life. But it is such an impactful moment in the show the way that it's lit, us all singing together in the new staging. I feel like Jesus Christ. I feel like Evita because I'm at the top of this railing belting my face off.
When you're doing the show eight times a week, you think you're going to get sick of things. I'm not sick of anything. I friggin' love her songs. They're all so well-written. They work so well as musical theatre, weaving in and out of the story.
As a co-writer on Titanique, was there anything specific about her you wanted to make sure to include?
What distinguishes Celine Dion from so many celebrities and pop stars is that anyone you speak to says she's a genuinely wonderful, kind human being full of heart. That was paramount in creating this: making sure that it is in no way, shape, or form taking the piss out of her. It is a true love letter to how wonderful she is.
We wanted to make sure we are literally honoring her legacy and that it is so close to her and her intentions that if you come to see the show, you're almost blindsided because it's such a similarity. I wanted to be a doppelganger for her. I wanted to embody her joy, her spirit. Granted, she's a little kooky, and I wanted to embody that too.
We did a ton of research. When we built this, I was looking at videos every single day trying to see what she does. And I realized I could get away with all these things because she gets away with it too.
To your knowledge, does she know of the show? What would you want her to know about it?
I think she is aware of the show. Her publicist has come. [David] Foster, who wrote all of her iconic songs, has come. Her stylist has come. A backup dancer has come. One of her former agents [has come]. And every single person has been blown out of the water. If she saw this, she would get the biggest kick out of it and she would think it's the greatest thing. Everyone has given their little sign-off, so that's the greatest encouragement.
I just want her to know how much joy she is bringing and her songs are bringing. This is not about me. This is her; she created this. She's the person who sang the songs. I just hope she knows this is such a love letter to her. There are people experiencing such joy from the show, and it is a credit to her.
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This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Photo credit: Marla Mindelle and the cast of Titanique at the Daryl Roth Theatre. (Photos by David Kraus)
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