THE fate of the RMS Titanic is perhaps not an obvious choice for a musical - but this is no ordinary musical.

I was intrigued to see how one of the world’s biggest maritime disasters, in which more than 1,500 men, women and children died, could be interpreted on stage, with music. There are several musicals with grim backdrops, (Les Mis and Fiddler on the Roof among them), but surely this story in particular needed to be handled sensitively.

By the time I left the Alhambra last night I was moved to tears by this production, and wanted to watch it all over again.

This is a beautifully staged production paying respect to those who lost their lives that April night of 1912, when the “unsinkable” Titanic collided with an iceberg on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. Based on the experiences of real people aboard the ship, the multi Tony-winning show is a story of love, ambition, hope, bravery, cowardice and, ultimately, dreams.

This was a time when the world had opened up and people were encouraged to think big - industrialists, engineers, business leaders as well as ordinary people prepared to travel across the world for a new life - and that sense of hope and ambition across the class divide is encapsulated on board the Titanic.

At the heart of the show are three men - White Star Line chairman J Bruce Ismay; Thomas Andrews, who designed the ship; and its captain, Edward Smith - who each have their own dreams. Simon Green was terrific as Ismay, a man determined to race the mighty ship along and turn her into a wonder of the world. Greg Castiglioni gave a scene-stealing performance as Andrews, who, as architect of the ship, feels the weight of responsibility for its demise, and Philip Rham was soul-stirring as Captain Smith, facing his own fate while trying to keep order, as the terrible truth unfolds that there aren’t enough lifeboats.

The passengers, too, have dreams. Through Maury Yeston’s stirring songs, the show introduces us to characters from first, second and third class - the millionaires whose fortunes are built on industry, the middle-classes keen to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, and the migrants seeking a better life - establishing the ship’s social division early on.

The pace of the show allows us to get to know these people - the elderly American couple, devoted to each other in life and death, the middle-aged English professional who can’t quite keep up with his aspirational wife (fabulous performance from Jacinta Whyte) , the greengrocer’s son and his upper class fiancee, and the young Irish hopefuls in steerage, escaping poverty for a new life across the Atlantic.

And we also meet the ship’s staff - Chief Officer William Murdoch, haunted by a fatal error; Second Officer Charles Lightoller, trying to maintain order as the ship takes in water; Frederick Barrett, toiling in the boiler room and dreaming of his sweetheart back home, and junior wireless operator Harold Bride, trying desperately to make contact with ships across the North Atlantic in an ultimately futile attempt to mount a rescue mission. All four men were beautifully played by Kieran Brown, Alistair Barron, Niall Sheehy and Oliver Marshall respectively.

As the passengers go about their business, Ismay is demanding more speed, to the dismay of officers who know the ship’s limitations. And as the stories unfold, the clever set design switches seamlessly from boiler room to dining room, steerage hold to look-out point on deck, where the calm darkness is about to be shattered.

In telling this story we know so well, through the words of those who experienced it, this show packs an emotional punch, largely through its haunting score (no Celine Dion number - this show is nothing to do with the flashy Oscar-winning movie) and excellent performances. There are no showy special effects, thankfully no water pouring in or chaotic scenes of desperate folk clinging to the deck.

When the ship finally goes down, there is an eerie calm. Those left on board make a dignified exit; Mr and Mrs Strauss waltz into the darkness, Captain Smith fleetingly glimpses his past in the face of a 14-year-old cabin boy called Edward, before laying his cap down, and the men leaving their women as widows and their children fatherless join the haunting chorus of We’ll Meet Tomorrow.

A powerful, beautifully presented show that lingers long after the curtain has fallen.

* Runs until Saturday.