Meet the cast making waves with 'Titanique' off Broadway
The cast share their introductions to the Titanic movie, their favorite Celine Dion songs, and highlights from the show.
The Titanic film was only released in 1997, but it achieved classic status instantly. Whether you've actually watched the movie or not, you probably know the story of Rose, who shuns her rich fiancé Cal and falls in love with Jack, a young artist, aboard the Titanic. You know they probably both could have fit on the door that Rose used as a makeshift life raft when the ship sank. You know "My Heart Will Go On," the movie's flagship song featuring Celine Dion's iconic vocals and an even more iconic penny whistle.
But do you know the new Off-Broadway spin on Titanic featuring Dion's whole greatest-hits catalog, TikTok jokes, and a scene inspired by RuPaul's Drag Race?
Enter Titanique, a new parody musical that's docked at Asylum NYC through November 13. Co-creators Tye Blue, Constantine Rousouli, Marla Mindelle, and Nicholas Connell have steered the story of Titanic in a whole new direction, having Dion crash a Titanic museum tour to share what really happened to Jack and Rose on that fateful ship.
All its creators are major Titanic fans who, while doing dinner theatre and parody musicals in LA, had the idea to put their love for the film on stage next. After multiple bare-bones readings and pop-up concerts, this is Titanique's first fully staged production.
Before you board the Ship of Dreams for yourself, get to know the cast's childhood obsessions with Titanic, their favorite funny moments in the show, and the Celine Dion songs that make their hearts go on.
With a Broadway resume that includes Link in Hairspray and Fiyero in Wicked, Rousouli — affectionately called "Connie" by his castmates — is a natural fit for Titanique's romantic male lead. He's been at the helm of the show on stage and off since the beginning.
Role: Titanique co-author and Jack. "Leo, I'm coming for your gig, baby!"
First time watching Titanic: "The first exposure to the movie was probably when I was 9 or 10. I remember going to the movie theatre with my parents and my sister, and I was like, 'What is this stupid movie?' And then all of a sudden, I was so enamored to see the ship come to life, because we had learned about the Titanic in school. It was so epic of a film. To be three hours in a movie and feel like it was five minutes... I was completely obsessed. I went back probably 12 times, where I would sneak into movie theatres with my friends and do a double feature and always end it with Titanic."
What he loves about Titanique: "We constantly rewrite it to make it more mainstream and more of what's happening in the world today. We'll do TikTok trends or Instagram trends. There's a great line [based on] Julia Fox saying Uncut Gems. So when I see the Heart of the Ocean, I'm like, 'What is that? A sapphire? A ruby? An uncut gem?'"
Favorite Celine Dion song: "All By Myself"
You may have seen the character of Rose on the big screen, but you've never seen her as a "zany, Carol Burnett ding-dong" type as Ellis plays her.
Role: Rose. "I'm a pretty quirky human in real life and with my characters on stage, so she's super quirky in this, super earnest, trying to find her way, trying to figure out what she wants."
First time watching Titanic: "I was in the eighth grade. I sobbed for a week straight after. I cried myself to sleep. I was sobbing in the theatre. I went with my friend Katie; I was obsessed with Leo, obviously, obsessed with everything. Then, there would be snippets on Entertainment Tonight and all the TV shows at night about how crazy the box office was and how Titanic just blew up. I taped everything on a VHS. I was an obsessed, hormonal 13-year-old."
What she loves about Titanique: "Marla [Mindelle] and Connie are my two best friends. We all were in New York in our 20s together, we all moved to LA around the same time, we all were singing in a bar for $1 in LA, and we all decided to create this show together. I've been on it since day one."
Favorite Celine Dion song: "Tell Him." "With the iconic Barbra Streisand! It's just an epic duet, and myself and the women that play Molly and Celine, we all get to sing it every night."
Mindelle has a long history of playing "quirky ingenues" on Broadway: Sister Mary Robert in Sister Act, evil stepsister Gabrielle in Cinderella. Now, she's taking on one of her three favorite singers growing up (the others are Barbra Streisand and Patti LuPone), a new challenge that terrified and excited her all at once.
Role: Titanique co-author and Celine Dion. "I kind of married myself and Celine together. It's not quite Celine, and it's not quite me. It's a mixture of the two."
First time watching Titanic: "I was 13 years old. I was in a theatre. I was like, 'This is the greatest thing I've ever seen,' and I saw it six more times. I was obsessed with the movie, and of course, 'My Heart Will Go On,' the iconic song. It was the most riveting thing I've ever seen. The love story was just incredible. I was a 13 year old being like, wow, this cinematography is amazing."
What she loves about Titanique: "There's an entire scene in the musical — spoiler alert — that is completely improv. I don't know what I'm going to say until I'm on stage. It's a five-minute scene, and it's very exciting because we got to do something different every night. I think one of the most exciting things about this for me is, on Broadway, you do the same exact show every single night. Nothing deviates. In this show, there is this really cool element of, it's going to be different every single night, and that gives me a chance to screw up and not care and be okay with whatever happens."
Favorite Celine Dion song: "All By Myself." "I used to sing that — tried to sing that — when I was 13 years old in my bedroom. My parents probably wanted to kill me. That goes back to my 13-year-old spirit."
Role: Victor Garber. "I'm playing three different characters: I play the captain, the owner, and the architect all smushed into one character, which we lovingly call Victor Garber."
First time watching Titanic: "God knows how old I was when I first saw it — I don't know, a tween? I was sitting next to my cousin; my cousin was like my best friend. The movie started — just the credits, with the black and white footage of the actual Titanic and *sings 'My Heart Will Go On' penny whistle tune,* when my cousin starts bawling. Sobbing. Like, scream-sobbing. I was like, 'Lonnie, what is wrong with you?' And she goes, 'They're all gonna die!' That was how my three-hour experience of Titanic started. She calmed down eventually."
What he loves about Titanique: "I'm trying to do Victor Garber's subtle Irish lilt that he uses when he says Jack and Rose. The man who plays the owner, I twitch and stroke my mustache the way he did. I'm a little bit more Victor Garber's character when I'm interacting with Jack and Rose. The captain, I take a lot of his -isms as well throughout the show."
His message to the Titanic cast: "I think Victor Garber would love my portrayal of Victor Garber. I'm desperate for him to come. If anyone knows Victor Garber, please tell him to come to the show. I will be very excited to hear what he has to say. I think anyone that's in the show — Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet — I think if any of them come, they're going to think it's the greatest thing they've ever seen in their lives."
Favorite Celine Dion song: "I Drove All Night." "I really like her new song 'Flying On My Own.' And I love the song 'You and I.'"
You might know John Riddle as the most recent Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. But he was truly destined for Titanique. After going to a Titanic museum as a kid (sans a Celine Dion appearance) and performing in the 1997 Titanic musical in St. Louis in 2010, Titanique was the perfect mashup.
Role: Cal. "I've always been into the villains. I don't know what that says about me."
First time watching Titanic: "I was in third grade and I saw it with my best friend. I made my mom take me for a second time, and I made my grandma take me for a third time. She was grabbing my arm during the nude scene. I was like, 'Don't worry, don't worry. It won't last long. I'll close my eyes.' I was completely obsessed with the movie. After the movie, I read everything there was about the history of it. We took a trip on spring break, and there was a Titanic museum in Orlando, Florida or something, and I made my parents take me. There's something about the story of [the movie] and the time period and the clothes and the grandeur and the mystery."
What he loves about Titanique: "I remember watching Billy Zane [as Cal] — and this is, maybe, in college, 10 years after the movie came out. I remember being like, 'They need to make this a musical, and I need to play that part.' And now I get to do that."
"Marla said to me the other day, 'You basically play the same character [as Raoul], which is really just a rich guy,' but it's completely different. It's such a 180 from Phantom. I was rehearsing Titanique during the day and then going and doing Phantom at night."
Favorite Celine Dion song: "I Surrender." "It's in the show. My second favorite, I'm not going to tell you, but it's also in the show and I get to sing it."
Kathy Bates played Deitch's role in the movie, making for a full-circle moment for the Titanique actress. "I met her when I was in Wicked; our stage manager was very good friends with her... She is responsible for me seeing myself as an actor in a way that I had never."
Role: "The Unsinkable" Molly Brown. "I played a young Kathy Bates in American Horror Story. I've walked down this path!"
What she loves about Titanique: "A lot of broad comedy [involves] body jokes and fat jokes. And when I came on board, I was really clear: I'm a fat activist. I don't do that anymore. When we were coming up with what makes Molly Brown so great, I was like, first of all, she's in everybody's business. And also, she's really smart and knows a lot. She's hustled, so we'll make her the know-it-all who knows all of the tactical things that everyone's ignoring on the boat."
Her message to the Titanic cast: "I'm trying to get [Bates] there because I have to get in touch with that same stage manager. When I finally calmed down and stopped crying [when meeting her], she was actually really hilarious. She literally said, 'Don't start crying because I'll start crying.' So I think she would literally hoot and holler at the show. Kathy Bates, come to the show!"
Favorite Celine Dion song: "Taking Chances." "How does anyone ever sing with that clarity and accuracy?"
By coincidence, Blue has a history of making "pop parody musicals" based on movies primed for professional adaptations. He had the idea to spoof The Devil Wears Prada just before plans for a Broadway-bound show were announced, and he staged a Mean Girls musical in LA as the Broadway one was beginning workshops. Since there's a Titanic musical already out there, it's deliberate this time.
Role: Titanique co-author and director. "It does remain a heterosexual love story, but the whole thing is definitely through the lens of the four of us co-creators who are all gay, and it just has our queer stank on it."
First time watching Titanic: "When I saw Titanic, I was probably 18, and I had this best friend named Nathan. I had a total crush on him, but he had this horrible toxic boyfriend. We went to see Titanic together. I was the third wheel on their date, and it was soul-crushing. I just remember seeing the old couple that lay in bed and spoon each other as the water comes up and takes them, and being like, that should be me and Nathan. Trauma, right? What kind of masochist am I? But I'm fully reclaiming Titanic for my own and making it a happy memory. And Nathan and I are still very good friends; he's flying up from Austin, Texas to come see the show with his now-husband, so that horrible guy is long gone."
What he loves about Titanique: "There are so many layers of nostalgia in this thing, from the film to Celine and her songs. And we constantly revised; like, 'That joke is very 2021. It doesn't work anymore.' We're like if SNL could sing. That's what we want to be. We're constantly following the memes. We're looking at social media. Anything that's hyper-queer or hyper-pop-music-oriented or anytime Celine does anything crazy, it goes into the show."
His message to the Titanic cast: "Please come to the show. We love you. Please enjoy what we make your characters do. It's a slay fest. It's high-camp theatricality and old-school stagecraft. I think they would appreciate the way we have held on to the heart of the story but expanded it into this big, crazy thing."
Favorite Celine Dion song: "Tell Him." "It's so powerful, it's so thoughtful, and the way we use it in the show grounds the show in a really charming way."
Excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.
Top image credit: The cast of Titanique. (Photo by Gillian Russo)
Cast portraits credit: Emilio Madrid
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