Is there anyone left in the galaxy who hasn't heard of the wreck of the doomed White Star Liner Titanic? If so, please report to your lifeboat station.
As improbable as it may seem in this Titanic-soaked era, someone did dare to come up with yet another variation on that granddaddy of all ship disasters, and not only did it become an artistic triumph, it won the 1997 Tony Award for best musical.
And that's exactly what Broadway veterans Peter Stone, story and book, and Maury Yeston, music and lyrics, accomplished with "Titanic," their musical that opened April 23, 1997, at New York's Lunt-Fontanne Theater.
"Titanic: A New Musical," a 42-character epic that cost $10 million before docking on Broadway, went on to win four other Tonys that year for book, score, scenic design and orchestrations.
The musical, which chronicles the century's most famous maritime disaster, opens Tuesday at Baltimore's Morris A. Mechanic Theatre for a six-day engagement.
Titanic-mania has continued to rage almost unabated for more than four decades, ever since Walter Lord, Baltimore native, product of Gilman School and resident of New York's Upper East Side, published "A Night to Remember."
The book remains the best, most vivid account of the calamity that took more than 1,500 souls to their deaths after the 882-foot-long Titanic -- the world's largest man-made moving object at the time -- struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage in 1912.
Titanic fever picked up additional steam in 1985 when a scientific expedition led by Dr. Robert Ballard discovered and photographed the wreck, about two miles beneath the surface some 400 miles southeast of Newfoundland. Hucksters are now touting six- figure tours to the shattered hulk. The world, it seems, can't ever get enough of the Titanic.
Through the years, the Titanic saga has been told many times on film and television, in documentaries and song. The most recent film incarnation -- directed by James Cameron in 1997, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet -- cost $200 million to make, far more than the $7.5 million it cost to build the original Titanic at the Harland & Wolff yards in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Some might have trouble conceptualizing a disaster musical, but not Peter Stone. He's been fascinated with the Titanic story most of his life and discovered that Maury Yeston was, too, when they collaborated on "Grand Hotel" several years ago.
Stone, a history buff who has won an Oscar and Emmy and Tony awards, has written scores of musicals, films and television shows. He is perhaps best-known for the musicals "1776" and "The Will Rogers Follies."
What prompted Stone to conceive the musical was the end of the 20th century and the fact that people are still struggling to co- exist with technology and nature.
"Everybody is interested in the Titanic, the greatest unsinkable ship that never arrived," Stone said recently. "We're coming to the end of a technological century, and people are wondering about Y2K and other possible technological breakdowns. The Titanic, the first big technological disaster of the century -- and there have been others, like the Challenger -- was faster, bigger and better. It showed us that technology is flawed," he said.
"Maybe most alleged technological progress is no better than the flawed human beings controlling it. Once you claim that a ship is unsinkable, it's doomed to sink. That's what happened to the Titanic. It's a great lesson: Nothing designed by man can ever be unsinkable," he said.
"We are still susceptible to natural dangers, and disasters like the Titanic teach people that nature is still dominant and that man is still ill-prepared to take on the role of God. So, I thought it was a very fine time to do this."
Stone also acknowledges that stage technology, which has reached mechanical heights in recent years, also factored into his decision. It is now possible to re-create on stage the liner's final, dramatic moments.
However, Stone was disturbed that before the show's New York opening, the press seized upon reports that the show was suffering mechanical problems.
Such headlines as "All singing, all dancing, all drowning," "Titanic sinks again," "Titanic hits another iceberg," "This Titanic won't sink" and "Titanic refuses to leave port," haunted the show early on. "All of that early gossip was simply not true," he said. "We survived all of it and went on to become a very big hit. It's ended well."
Stone created a dramatic presentation that relies upon actual passengers and crew aboard the ill-fated liner.
"They were all real people and they were all so compelling. Creating fictional characters would be like carrying coals to Newcastle," said Stone. "The various classes aboard the ship mirrored Edwardian society, and it gave us a chance to show those delineations between first-class, second- and steerage," he said.