This Broadway Vet Took Agency Over Her Career And Co-Created An Off-Broadway Show. (And She Gets To Play Céline Dion.)

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Several years ago, Marla Mindelle and her friends, who were Broadway expats, were performing in dinner theater in Los Angeles. During the gig, which paid “about a dollar” Mindelle and her friends (Tye Blue, Constantine Rousouli and Nicholas Connell) would perform in movie-to-musical parodies. “Like Troop Beverly Hills and Devil Wears Prada,” says Mindelle whose Broadway credits includes Sister Act, South Pacific and Cinderella and is also a prolific writer.

One day Rousouli had an idea. This eureka moment was borne from the fact that they were all killer performers but didn’t have the right material to display all they had to offer. “I was looking at my friends who are incredibly talented and were on Broadway and moved to LA trying to make it in Hollywood. We were doing this show and it was not great,” he shares. He thought, we need to write our own thing. “Why don't we do a parody of Titanic with Céline Dion music?” explains Rousouli. “Everybody knows Céline Dion and everybody knows Titanic.”

What if they merged those two entities together in one world? Rousouli went home and jotted down all of Dion’s catalogue. He also noted where each song would fit into telling the story of the film. He discovered the songs fit perfectly.

Rousouli approached Mindelle. “He said, ‘our next musical will be Titanic with Céline Dion songs. You're going to play Céline. I'll be Jack. My friend, Alex Ellis, will be Rose,” recalls Mindelle who was at first skeptical and terrified, especially since she has been a massive Céline Dion fan since she was 13 and had belted “All By Myself” in her room.

“At the time I thought, that's absolutely crazy. There is no chance in hell that I'm going to be Céline Dion and we’ll write this musical.” Mindelle was always taken by Dion’s sense of innocence. “She is like a child discovering the world and is so passionate and full of joy,” she explains.

Dividing the script into a beginning, middle and end, Mindelle, Rousouli and Blue each tackled a section of the play and then Mindelle streamlined it. A Google spreadsheet was created. Then they merged it together in a writer's room they created to go through the script and determine what they did and didn’t like. Titanique was born and included Dion’s countless hits including “My Heart Will Go On,” “All By Myself” and “To Love You More.”

A few years later, after the initial script was passed on, Blue couldn’t get the Céline Dion-tells-the-Titanic story out of his mind. It was mid-2017 and he was in a dark place, feeling discouraged about the world. Blue thought, “You have to get people to laugh and make yourself laugh,” he says. “If you’re feeling like this, you have to get back out there and make people feel better about being a human being on this planet.”

The trio honed the script some more and began doing pop up concerts in Los Angeles for fun. “We thought it was going to be a fun thing we did with a glass of chardonnay in our hands in a bar in Los Angeles,” says Blue of the sold-out concerts. “It was our side project that made us feel good,” adds Rousouli.

As scary as it was for Mindelle to play her idol, she ultimately found a way in. “I started watching a lot of videos and realized, wait a second, Marla, you're in love with her,” says Mindelle who also starred as Olivia in the Netflix series Special. “Channel how much you love her. And hopefully that love will come through.”

Alex Ellis, who plays Rose, was struck by the enthusiastic response. “We had done so many readings. We knew how crazy the audiences went for it—all the knee slapping and cackles and how special it was,” says Ellis who has been involved in the show since its beginnings. “So, we held on and kept pushing this boulder up the hill.”

And then Tony and Grammy-winning Broadway producer Eva Price (Jagged Little Pill, Oklahoma!), came aboard. And their passion project really grew legs. After seeing a concert presentation in 2018 Price said, “I must produce this,” she shares. “It was an irreverent, beautiful, nostalgic and hilarious send-up of things that I love.”

On June 14 Titanique began performances at the Asylum Theatre in New York City. Directed by Blue, the cast features Mindelle as Céline Dion, Rousouli as Jack, Frankie Grande as Victor Garber, Kathy Deitch as Molly Brown, Ryan Duncan as Ruth, Alex Ellis as Rose, John Riddle as Cal and Jaye Alexander as The Iceberg. Courtney Bassett, Donnie Hammond and Dimitri Moise round out the ensemble. Music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations are by Nicholas Connell with choreography by Ellenore Scott. “The show is a 90-minute waterfall of pure joy,” says Blue. “The world is so crazy right now. So for 90 minutes you can throw all your troubles away and come listen to the best songs of all time and just laugh,” adds Mindelle.

Frankie Grande, who learned about Titanique from Rousouli, his co-star in Cruel Intentions, doing the show has been incredibly healing. “Constantine said, ‘we want you to play the captain and crash the ship while singing, “I drove all night,’” shares Grande who plays Victor Garber, the regal captain, architect and the engineer merged into one. “I thought, that’s exactly what I need in my life. It lifted my spirit and contributed to my sobriety. Being part of a show that makes me smile and laugh has been so good for my soul.”

Titanique was originally slated to go live in 2020. Yet even when the Pandemic derailed their plans, they managed to say intrepid. “What kept me going was knowing how much the show meant to everyone and how much they loved it,” shares Price. “The artists that created this piece and their passion for it is beautiful and inspiring.”

While Dion hasn’t seen the show yet, some of the people who work closely with her, like David Foster, who wrote all her iconic songs, have. Foster has called the show “outstanding.”As Mindelle points out Titanique is a great love letter to the singer. “I try to celebrate her on stage and never make fun of her at all,” she says. “It’s sounds so silly, but she gives me the confidence to be the best performer.”

And what would Mindelle do if Dion should happen to show up at The Asylum Theatre to experience Titanique? “I would literally die and say to her, ‘can you just do the show?,’” says Mindelle. “I’d say, ‘Here's the script. Just walk around and do it.’”

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