Hats on Hats on Hats

There’s a fundamental storytelling problem at the heart of jukebox musicals:

(“heart” = a misnomer? Because soulless cashgrabs don’t have hearts?? I keeed (I don’t keed)).

Where was I? Ah yes, the aforementioned fundamental storytelling problem of jukebox musicals:

The songs were not originally written to tell the show’s story.

Which is all fine and dandy when it comes to fluff like Mamma Mia! But any jukeboxer (they’ve KO’d me many a time; not a compliment) that attempts to pull off serious drama must overcome the fact that the lyrics were not intended to flesh out the scripted narrative. As much as books try to retrofit a plot to house these pre-existing numbers, they can’t help but feel like deviations that merely scratch the surface of the central thrust. At best, these purpose-built constructions concoct storylines that resonate in relation to the famous tunes.

Which means that these layered relations are the dramaturgical lifeblood of jukebox musicals. The deeper and more numerous the layers, the more satisfying the artistic stew, ya?

That seems to be the idea behind Titanique, a new jukebox musical that asks the question: how many comedic hats on a hat can be used to…well, is it to mask the deficiencies of the jukebox musical form? Or to wield its maximal power??

Let’s break down each of these hat layers:

The first hat: it’s a crassly campy musical retelling of the movie Titanic, with the comic sensibility of South Park / Mel Brooks / drag / cabaret / improv / sketches.

Meanwhile, the entire score is comprised of Céline Dion bangers — AKA: the second hat — matched to various Titanic story points. The show mines the comedy of the relationship between the movie’s Hollywood cliches and the musical cliches of Dion’s catalogue.

Titanique’s third hat: Céline herself narrates the tale, a Tony-worthy impersonation that doesn’t so much lean as careen into the eccentric quirks of her persona (her French-Canadiennesse explains the title).

So let’s take stock of the layers of satirical hats so far: Titanique is a spoof of Titanic, of sweeping Hollywood historical tragic romances, of Céline’s art, and of Céline the artist.

Taken together, this Matryoshka doll of hats-on-hats tomspoofery ultimately feels like one big parody of the sort of jukebox musicals that strive to relay a chronicle as serious as the Titanic calamity (amid all the laughs, do we forget that real people died here? Not a criticism! It could be a subtextual commentary on our habit of turning sadness into joy, a bedrock musical theater register; for better and for worse). I mean, its tagline is “Une Parodie Musicale” for a reason.

In so being, Titanique becomes one of the strongest entries in the genre of recent years ever.

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