And yet, among those five Tony nominations, not a single actor was nominated. "And you know what?" Stephenson suggests. "As much as I love all of them, no one should have been nominated, because Titanic is a collective effort. Everybody moves the show forward together. There's not a single character who's more important than anyone else."

What should next week's Muny audiences expect? Stephenson reverses the question. "They shouldn't expect Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet," he replies, referencing the 1997 blockbuster film that opened six months after the musical. "They also shouldn't expect to see My Fair Lady or The Pajama Game, because Titanic is not a conventional musical. But it's ideal for the Muny, because it's huge and grand. So what audiences should expect to see is something they can't see anywhere else.

"Titanic is rarely done in the United States, because it makes enormous demands on the people who stage it. I take my hat off to [executive producer] Paul Blake and to everybody at the Muny for having the guts and gumption to take it on. Paul has very wisely hired several of the original cast members. He also succeeded in signing up our musical director Kevin Stites, who conducted it on Broadway. Kevin is one of the most in-demand conductors in New York. He's never worked at the Muny before, so this is a huge coup. And it's a great relief for me. I won't have to be saying, 'That tempo is slow,' and, 'This doesn't sound right,' because Kevin knows Maury's score so well. It's some of the most haunting music you'll ever hear. I told my wife the other day, 'I want the song "Autumn" [which is sung near the end of Act One] to be played at my memorial,' which I fear might be at the end of the Muny rehearsals.

Don Stephenson mans the ship as director of the Muny's Titanic.
Don Stephenson mans the ship as director of the Muny's Titanic.

Details

Titanic
July 5-11 at the Muny in Forest Park.
In addition to the free seats, tickets are $9 to $66.
Call 314-361-1900 or visit www.muny.org.

"All jokes aside, the reality is that we have thirteen days in which to stage this epic and extremely complicated show. In New York it took us thirteen days just to stage the opening number. But we'll do our best, and if we do it right, I hope that the Muny audiences will find Titanic to be inspirational. I hope that they will not be able to sit there unmoved, because the show compels you to think about the people who perished on that ship. To me, as an actor and now as a director, there is nothing more exciting than bringing history to life on the stage. Titanic is one of those rare musicals whose very ambition is to bring the past alive. If we can do that, then we will have done our jobs."

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