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Troubles with the ''Titanic'' Musical

Technical difficulties threaten the Broadway musical

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James Cameron is not the only one with Titanic problems. The Broadway musical Titanic, which opened April 23, has charted a course nearly as turbulent as that of its Hollywood kin. Granted, the musical’s $10 million budget couldn’t pay the bagels-and-cream-cheese bill on a Cameron set. But the production’s technical difficulties would give any producer — Hollywood or Broadway — pause.

The show’s disastrous March 29 preview began with a preemptive apology from director Richard Jones, who warned the audience that the crossing might be rough. No lie. The production repeatedly ground to a halt because of bugs in its tilting, three-story hydraulic-lift set. The audience finally left after a grueling 3 1/2 hours — an hour longer than the mighty ship took to sink in real life. ”We have an awareness that no new musical has had in 10 years,” says producer Michael David. ”God knows, we have awareness.”

During previews, the show was trimmed to a more endurable 2 1/2 hours. (”Musicals are rewritten more than written,” explains Peter Stone, who wrote Titanic‘s book.) Nevertheless, the buzz on Broadway has been chillier than North Atlantic waters. Of course, the show may draw some crowds (it’s hard to say, since the producers wouldn’t disclose ticket-sales figures). But even if Titanic sinks, producers are unlikely to be swayed from their current predilection for tourist-friendly event productions. ”Broadway is littered with spectacles,” says Hal Luftig, a producer of the revue Play On! ”If just one catches on, that’s enough for hope to spring eternal.”