Titanic opened to some mixed and negative reviews. Maury Yeston is reminded of this in the heady days after the show's Tony-win as Best Musical and a now-booming box office. "But let's not forget," reminds Yeston, "we got some very good ones!" Immediately after the opening, which was preceded by rumor-plagued previews, there was the perception among the cast that the mega-musical might close. Some sources close to the production said cast reaction bordered on panic. "We did get mixed reviews," said Yeston. "We took our knocks. But the cast didn't think we were going to close. They feared we were going to close. They couldn't understand how a show that got such wonderful audience response through previews, could be so mis-received by the critics."

Peter Stone, who wrote the book, made it clear on Tony night in the press room that rumors of technical problems preventing the ship from sinking were an invention of the press. He blamed the one canceled preview on late arriving pieces from the scenic shop. "That's true," concurred Yeston. "It happens to every show. I fully expected we'd go through a trial of fire, especially since our name was `Titanic' and it was such a challenging title. There was certainly no advantage in not going out of town." Yeston said he's always thought of critics as human beings, "and I don't fault them or anyone else for anticipating a show that was less than wonderful, especially after hearing all that scuttlebutt. It's hard to walk in as if you've not heard anything. It's like trying to get a clean jury when the public's aware of the press. We got raves from out of town critics because they didn't participate in the difficult days of previews. The New York critics previewed the previews more than the show."

But the producers of Titanic had a game plan. "We assembled the cast and company in the Lunt-Fontanne Theater's lower lounge, which was one of our rehearsal spaces, and Michael David of the Dodgers laid out a very clear plan. He spoke of what he felt about the show and how the reviews didn't reflect the quality of the performances or the work. He said he knew audiences were telling us the truth. He explained how we were going to advertise to get our message to public. How the ad agency would find those reviews that reflected what the show was really about."
And then it was Yeston's turn. "Yeah, I made a speech in which I expressed from the bottom of my heart the reasons that I write for the musical theater. It was a heartfelt sentimental message to them, many of whom have become my good friends. It was a wonderful moment for all of us to get back to our roots as to why we do this in the first place. For a moment, we got away from all of the false elements of the marketplace: the reviews, Tony competition, all of the things that are secondary to the real reason they as artists and I as composer/lyricist choose to do what we do." Yeston was never shaken by the reviews, "or pissed off. No, no, you must understand. I'm not guided by what other people think, but by what people like. I write from where I get my best ideas. And I wait, and wait for the audiences to respond. I am a very patient man!"


Key Subjects: 
Maury Yeston, Titanic
Ellis Nassour
Writer Bio: 
Ellis Nassour contributes entertainment features here and abroad. He is the author of "Rock Opera: the Creation of Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline," and an associate editor and a contributing writer (film, music, theater) to Oxford University Press' American National Biography (1999).