Ingeniously wacky campy musical parody ‘Titanique’ at Asylum NYC has all the makings of a cult classic

Not only does the over-the-top hilarious musical parody Titanique, now playing a limited engagement at Asylum NYC, bring “kooky crazy” non-stop laughs, it also delivers the spot-on comedic timing and powerhouse vocals of an across-the-board top-notch cast of Broadway veterans in an ingenious mash-up of the blockbuster Oscar-winning 1997 film Titanic, the music and stylings of Céline Dion (who recorded the movie’s famous theme song “My Heart Will Go On”), contemporary pop culture, and high camp. With a book co-written by director Tye Blue and stars Marla Mindelle and Constantine Rousouli, and lively choreography by Ellenore Scott, the current Off-Broadway run is the first full-stage production of the original spoof – following sold-out pop-up engagements in LA and NYC, where it won a BroadwayWorld Cabaret Award in 2019, and Titanique: The Maiden Voyage, performed at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge in 2021 – and it’s oceans away from your usual jukebox musical, so be sure not to miss the boat on this sidesplitting show.

Marla Mindelle (center) and the cast. Photo by Emilio Madrid.

The irreverent story begins when the French-Canadian singer interrupts a Titanic Museum tour with her own madcap account of what really happened on that disastrous 1912 voyage – and she would know, since she was there and “it’s all coming back to [her] now” (which, as she acknowledges, would make her 150 years old). In the lead role of Dion, Mindelle perfectly nails her familiar voice, accent, idiosyncratic speech pattern, and quirky thought process, as well as her recognizable demeanor, facial expressions, and mannerisms, as she directly addresses and interacts with the audience, butts in on her re-imaginings of the other characters’ re-enacted scenes and songs, and interjects her confused commentary, riotously loaded with malapropisms and anachronisms.

Alex Ellis and Rousouli are uproarious as the frantic upper-class Rose and the appealing but not-too-bright penniless Jack, the central mismatched lovers of the romantic love-triangle narrative. And as Rose’s fiancé by her mother Ruth’s arrangement, John Riddle brings just the right touch of controlling condescension, explosive jealousy, and “metrosexual” attitude to the wealthy, handsome, and effete Cal – who might not actually be the best choice for her husband and whose demand to the captain to get him to his appointment at an in-vogue SoHo hair salon on time ultimately results in the ship’s sinking.

Alex Ellis, John Riddle, and Constantine Rousouli. Photo by Emilio Madrid.

The rest of the highly entertaining and extremely talented cast is also given their moments to shine, both comedically and vocally, and every one of them brings it, in their farcical characterizations, double-entendres and sexual innuendo, and stellar featured numbers. Ryan Duncan, in the hysterical cross-gender casting of Rose’s redoubtably mean mother Ruth, takes the drag favorite portrayal of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest to an even more risible level. Jaye Alexander plays multiple roles, but totally rocks the ocean as the personification of The Iceberg, who, in a blue wig and glittering dress, belts out “River Deep, Mountain High” with the strength and style of Tina Turner, in a performance that brings down the house. And the ship. And launches the passengers into a Drag Race-type lip-sync competition that determines who will win the opportunity to get onto one of its too-few lifeboats.

Frankie Grande appears in the dual roles of Jack’s Italian friend Luigi, who accompanies him in steerage, and as the invented composite character Captain Victor Garber (not a figure in the film, but the actor who played the shipbuilder Thomas Andrews), who recklessly accelerates the speed to accommodate Cal and hits the iceberg while fittingly singing Dion’s hit “I Drove All Night” – with a distinct accent for each and his own irresistible flamboyance and vocal prowess. And Kathy Deitch as the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, who, in real life, survived the disaster, kills it with her apropos rendition of “All By Myself” – though that’s not exactly the case with Titanique’s surprise ending. The featured actors are backed by a full live upstage band, with music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Nicholas Connell, and three back-up singers – Courtney Bassett, Donnie Hammond, and Dimitri Moise – who round out the ensemble and also serve as understudies.

Ryan Duncan, Kathy Deitch, Marla Mindelle, and Frankie Grande. Photo by Emilio Madrid.

The terrific performances are supported by an efficient and amusing design, with a backdrop wall of the windows of a ship and a movable metal bow on which Rose and Jack enact their iconic “I’m flying!” scene (set design by Iron Bloom Creative Production/Gabriel Hainer Evansohn) and eye-popping props by Eric Reynolds that include a suspended oversized plushy of The Heart of the Ocean necklace, which figures prominently in the story, and a full-size stand-up cut-out of Broadway’s living legend Patti LuPone, which is important to the musical’s current self-referencing theatrical humor and elicits one of the show’s funniest lines. Colorful lighting by Paige Seber and sound by Lawrence Schober are flawlessly synchronized with the beat of the songs and the actions of the characters (most humorously, their loud and hard repeated slapping of each other), and costumes by Alejo Vietti and wig and hair design by Tommy Kurzman capture the look of Dion and define the wacky campy personalities of her fabulous faulty memories.

Marla Mindelle and Jaye Alexander. Photo by Emilio Madrid.

It is also noteworthy that, to compensate for the configuration of the wide and shallow stage, with seating on three sides and view-blocking pillars in the basement venue, Blue’s smartly considered blocking utilizes the aisles and moves the actors around the space, making frequent eye contact and connecting with the audience, so everyone has an up-close-and-personal fun-filled experience. The only criticism I have of Titanique is that it’s playing a limited engagement at Asylum NYC that’s scheduled to close in late September. Why??? This has all the makings of a cult classic that could run forever – or at least another 150 years.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes, without intermission,

Titanique plays through Sunday, September 25, 2022, at Asylum NYC, 307 West 26th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $28-98), call (212) 203-5435, or go online. Masks are required inside the venue in between sips of a beverage.

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