TheatreWorks premieres outstanding ‘Triangle’

One of the greatest American tragedies of the early 20th century was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 in New York City. The death toll reached 146 people, many of them immigrant women, some in their early teens.

“Triangle,” a musical about this disaster, is being given its world premiere in an outstanding production by TheatreWorks.

With music by Curtis Moore, lyrics by Thomas Mizer and a book by Mizer, Moore and Joshua Scher, “Triangle” takes place in 1910 and 1911 and in 2011. Most of the action is set in the restored 10-story building where the fire occurred.

Adroitly directed by Meredith McDonough, scenes easily shift between the two time periods.

The main character in the 2011 scenes is Brian (Ross Lekites), a doctoral student in chemistry. Lekites is the only member of the six-person cast to play just one character. The others play at least two.

Brian and his friend, Cynthia (Sharon Rietkerk), also a doctoral student, are going into the building as a group of people is gathered nearby to read the names of those who died in the fire. They accidentally meet Ben (Zachary Prince). For various reasons, both Ben and Brian become interested in specific fire victims.

The 1910 and 1911 scenes focus on a Jewish immigrant, Sarah (Megan McGinnis), who has started work supervised by Vincenzo (Prince). Others seen in this time period are Vincenzo’s sister, Theresa (Laura D’Andre); Sarah’s widowed, pregnant sister, Chaya (Rietkerk); and their father (Rolf Saxon).

Although the title refers to the shirtwaist factory, it also alludes to the triangular relationships that develop among various characters. David Zimmerman’s set with its walls set at an angle is a subtle reflection of the triangle theme.

The plot also alludes to 9/11, in which Brian’s beloved older sister died while working in one of the towers. Because he’s still grieving for her, he can’t move on as well as he should.

All of the actors sing well as individuals and in ensembles. Each one also creates a clearly defined character.

In addition to Zimmerman’s set, the shifts between time periods are aided by Cathleen Edwards’ costumes, Paul Toben’s lighting and Brendan Aanes’ sound. Musical director James Sampliner on keyboard conducts the five other instrumentalists.

“Triangle” was first seen locally as part of TheatreWorks’ annual New Works Festival in 2012. It was then workshopped around the country until it was ready for this world premiere, the 66th in TheatreWorks’ 46 seasons.

Running about two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission, it’s outstanding in every respect. Unlike many Broadway musicals nowadays, it doesn’t have big production numbers or dancing. Instead it exerts its emotional power with interesting, complex characters and situations along with noteworthy music.

For those who’d like to preview what might lie ahead, TheatreWorks will present its New Works Festival Aug. 8 to 16 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

“Triangle” continues at the Lucie Stern through Aug. 2. For tickets and information about it or the New Works Festival, call (650) 463-1960 or visit