Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” wasn’t just the final proclamation of Titanic, one of our favorite love stories turned disaster films—it was a premonition as well. Celine, her heart, her humor, and her super-diva spirit have indeed ‘gone on,’ finding a new life in the mega-successful off-Broadway hit, Titanique. This hilarious musical reinterpretation of James Cameron’s account of the fated 1912 cruise liner insists that Celine Dion was among those present, and somehow she has survived to tell (sing) the tale.
Titanique first opened in Chelsea—Manhattan’s LGBTQ bastion—at Asylum NYC’s basement theater, which was hidden underneath the linoleum floors of an abandoned Gristedes grocery store. It only took a month for the show to be launched into the New York theater zeitgeist, largely due to word-of-mouth and rapid internet buzz. GLAAD Board Member Fankie Grande was one of the first to attend the production, and he eventually secured the role of both Jack’s friend Luigi and the Canadian actor Victor Garber. For Grande, viewing the show was one thing, but performing in it was something else entirely. “It has been the biggest dream of my life performing Victor Garber in Titanique with this incredible cast for such incredible audiences, including the real Victor Garber himself!” Grande told Playbill.
Since its start, Titanique has set sail to the nearly twice-as-large Daryl Roth Theater where it has been renewed four times, now extending through January of 2024. Since its kick-off in June of 2022, the show has snowballed into a queer cultural canon that, despite its increasing acclaim and popularity, refuses to abandon its campy, eccentric, and scrappy foundation.
The seeds of Titanique were planted in 2016 by friends, roommates, and co-writers Marla Mindelle and Constantine Rousouli. Mindelle and Rousouli got to know each other through the Los Angeles dinner theater scene, performing parody musicals together. They worked alongside Tye Blue, whom they later enlisted to help with the script and to eventually direct the show. “We were all in Los Angeles, and we were just completely broke, and completely unemployed, and completely bored,” Mindelle reported. “And Connie came up to me, saying, ‘I think the next musical that we should do here is Titanic with all Celine Dion songs.’ And I was like, ‘In what world do you think the three of us are gonna get together and write a musical and make it happen?’ But we just started meeting up.” Mindelle described Titanique as a side project: “It was like our mistress,” she said, laughing.
Mindelle and Rousouli both shared that the writing process was easy and liberating. “We never disagreed on creative vision because I think we all share one giant crazy wacky ass brain that really understands and gets each other,” Mindelle stated. “And the three of us are inherently queer, and gay, and extra. And we did not have any producers writing this. We didn’t have anyone breathing down our necks. So we just wrote what makes us laugh and what’s funny to us.” Rousouli echoed this sentiment, claiming that they wrote Titanique “to get back to the roots of having fun again, and believing in something, and loving something so much, and appreciating theater for what it is: the good times, the fun.” Rousouli felt a personal peace throughout the creation of Titanique. “It’s been so many years that people have always put me in a box, ‘Well, you can’t be that gay,’ but when we were writing this, I was like, ‘I’m going to give you every inch of myself that is so true, that is so authentic.’”
And, of course, it is the very unadulterated humor and radical authenticity of the show that makes it so universally adored. “I think it’s incredible that we’re just three queer people that wrote this musical and everyone’s laughing at it. You usually have to be so censored, and something like this is once in a blue moon… And I think that’s why people love it so much, because there is nothing like it out there,” Mindelle beamed.
What adds to the show’s hilarity is that no two Titanique performances are the same. With its slaphappy finger forever on the pulse of all things, the show frequently includes off-the-cuff lines that aptly allude to pop culture fixations, memes, or TikTok trends of the moment. The one uproarious consistent inconsistency in the production is Celine’s nightly improvised monologue. In an unscripted stream of consciousness riff, Celine tests Rose and Jack’s ability to follow along and copy-cat her nonsensical ramble through lip synch and laughter. Without fail, this brief, unexpected hiatus from the story is pure genius.
When asked what the future holds for Titanique, both Mindelle and Rousouli responded, “global domination.” Rousouli’s hope is to “do Titanique all over the world, maybe do a movie. But I think the ultimate number one mission is to spread love, spread joy, and spread laughter.” Mindelle has another idea in mind: “Well, the vision is Titanique in Chromatica, 2026, and we’re taking Titanique to space, and the aliens are gonna love it, and they’re gonna be like, ‘What are gay people?’”
The success of the show has secured Mindelle and Rousouli’s standing in the theater-verse and has inspired them to dream big professionally. “For me, personally, this has been the greatest gift because I’m finally able to represent myself as a true multi-hyphenate,” Mindelle explained. “I was never seen as an actor in Los Angeles. I was never seen as a writer in New York. And finally I’m both.” She says, “I want to be a musical Tina Fey. I want to be cranking out my material. I want to be starring in things, and I want to keep sticking to my wacky, crazy, queer brand, which seems to be going well for me.” For now, the two are excited to see how far the show can progress.
“I mean, everything that I wanted to come across, especially in my writing and my acting, is in this production, and it feels really nice that people are just receiving it so well,” Rousouli said. “So many people have come to see Titanique, and they’re like, ‘Wow, you wrote this for me.’ That’s the best gift I can ever give anybody… I can’t believe that we’ve bamboozled commercial theater with our inside jokes. We’re like the anti-musical musical, which I love. So, to me, I can die happy. I’m just like, ‘OK, bye. Bye. See you later.’”
Titanique is absurd, ridiculous, and hilarious. But at its heart, it is a top-tier, well-crafted, and uber-clever celebration that applauds and represents all things queer. The premise is as sweet as it is aspirational, the singing is otherworldly, the trust between the actors is palpable, and the unabashed and confident queer expression is one of a kind. The success of this master-minded show is immeasurable—what other off-Broadway play has garnered such a queer cult following that many of the superfan devotees proclaim themselves “TiStaniques”?