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Magic To Do Just For Princess

The nice thing about new music and shows and entertainment in general is that they never end. There are always creative minds that come along with something fresh and this is Stephen Schwartz-3-Magic to Doespecially true in cruising, an industry always eager to find a unique way to entertain thousands of passengers on cruise ships.

The pendulum of innovation now strikes Princess.

It’s called Magic To Do.

This is an original musical that will make its debut on the Crown Princess in the fall. There’s always a risk in creating original shows, for the simple reason that they’ve never been accepted, or popular, or award winners. To minimize the risk, you find a proven talent.

Stephen Schwartz-2-Ralf RühmeierLike Stephen Schwartz.

Proven? Three Academy Awards and six Tony Awards. Proven? The only songwriter in history to have three shows run on Broadway for 1,900 performances — Wicked, Pippin and Godspell.

Schwartz has been doing this for 40 years so Princess believes he’s a safe enough bet to sign him to a multi-year contract. Like most cruise lines, it has ship theaters that are capable of handling Broadway-style productions, which have already captivated passengers with long-running shows on Royal Caribbean (CATS and Mamma Mia! and Chicago and We Will Rock You) and Norwegian (Rock of Ages and Legally Blonde).

Princess says Schwartz, now 67, has had a life-long fascination with magic and that the new show will combine that with some of his famous songs and one he’s writing  exclusively for the cruise line. That’s about all that’s being said right now about Magic to Do, the first of four productions that will surface on the Princess fleet in the years ahead.

There are no guarantees they’ll be hits…but that’s show business, isn’t it?

– Stephen Schwartz photro by Ralf Rühmeier

Today at portsandbows.com: More details on Princess entertainment

Carnival Fascination
4 nights
April 30, 2015
Jacksonville (return): Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $289
Cost per day: $72

Oasis of the Seas — More Perfect 

The fact that Oasis of the Seas has now emerged from its inaugural refurbishing means that it is, indeed, five years since the big ship became known as the biggest. There has been nary a complaint about this ship, and its sister Allure of the Seas, which will get its first makeover next spring.

So, about that encore…

For its encore, Oasis emerged from a shipyard in The Netherlands yesterday with a new Oasis of the SeasBroadway show (CATS), changes to its back end (not the stern!) to prepare it for Dynamic Dining, new specialty restaurants and the fastest Internet anywhere that land can’t be seen…according to Royal Caribbean.

All of which proves that it’s tough to improve on near-perfection.

The new dining concept won’t go into effect until spring, because Royal Caribbean wants to introduce it on new ships Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas and the new show, CATS, is a changing of the cast after Hairspray’s five-year run. If you’ve been reading comments on our blogs, you likely saw that one reader thinks the new concept will be a flop.

Whether it is or not, the first big winner with passengers is going to be high-speed Internet access because, if it’s as good as Royal Caribbean says, that’s a game-changer for an industry known for slow-speed Internet.

The refurbishing of Oasis wasn’t without a little controversy. The Dutch website DutchNews.nl reported that “hundreds of workers were flown into Rotterdam” in order to complete the refurbishing on time and that 48 of them  did not have a “work permit.” As a result, the news agency says, Royal Caribbean is subject to fines totaling 600,000 euros.

That’s probably the last anyone will hear of it.

Today at portsandbows.com: Cruise ships built in China?

Caribbean Princess
5 nights
November 24, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Nassau, Princess Cays
Inside: $209
Cost per day: $41

New Broadway show for Oasis of the Seas

Question: How many times can you see CATS, the Broadway show?

Answer: As many as possible.

Let's be clear. We're not really "cat people." Dog lovers rarely are. There's conflict that comes with the DNA. But "cats" are not CATS, unless the very sight of a feline creeps you out, in which case being in the audience of the Broadway show is not CATSadvisable.

The audience for CATS will be on Oasis of the Seas, co-holder of the "biggest cruise ship in the world" title. That means a new audience — or at least a recycled old one — will enjoy the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the story that goes with it. We've seen it three times in various settings (including Broadway) but never on a ship.

It's the latest Broadway show for Royal Caribbean, following Hairspray — which has been on Oasis of the Seas since it arrived in 2009 —and Mamma Mia and Saturday Night Fever and Chicago.

Show No. 5 in that line-up will make its debut after Oasis goes into dry-dock this fall for a refurbishment that somebody, somewhere, is guaranteed to describe as the "CATS meow."

Wait a minute…somebody already has.

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Norwegian Breakaway
7 nights
May 11, 2014
New York (return): Bermuda
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85


In New York, bet on Broadway


NEW YORK — When you come to New York, fast becoming a popular port for cruise ships to hang their shingles or drop their anchors, you go to Broadway and see a show. It's just one of those things you do, so it was one of those things we did. We went to the corner of Broadway and 51st Street…and did we see a show!

This was the night after Royal Caribbean's introduction of its new ship, Quantum of the Seas. It wasn't a Broadway show in the traditional or conventional sense, because what you'll find at the corner of 51st is a diner. Specifically, the Ellen's Stardust Diner. We stumbled across it quite by accident, while searching for a late-evening meal that wasn't at a restaurant reviewed by Bon Appetit.

The menu looked appealing — that means lots of variety and unlikely to consume next month's mortgage payment — so in we went. The first thing we noticed was that it was loud and a young woman whose voice could break a wine glass was hitting the high notes as we were being seated.

Then another server sang. And another. And on into the night. We asked ours (he goes by Slick) if all the servers sang.

"Everyone," he said.

The diner is staffed with young people who come from all over the country and who don't want to work there, because where they want to work is on Broadway. Not the street, the district. They probably work for minimum wage, hoping that one of their customers is a talent scout, or a theatre manager, or a performer who isn't afraid of competition.

They sing everything from Let's Dance (Donna Summer) to Runaway (Del Shannon) to Dancing Queen (Abba) to Phantom of the Opera. It may be self-effacing, but they call it the "best free show on Broadway."

Once per meal, it seems, the waiters pass the bucket for tips, which they explain are pooled so that at the end of each week there's enough to pay for one singing or acting lesson, per person. It's either a wonderful idea or a good shtick to top up the tip jar, but either way the show they put on is worth an extra five bucks in the kitty.

Standing outside the diner, post-dinner, we were approached by a passerby who asked if we were going into a place where he'd taken his children and grandchildren. We asked if anybody ever made it to the big stage from serving tables and he said it was tough, but a few had probably made the step and that, in the end, it was good for them anyway.

It is, after all, on Broadway.

Carnival Sensation
4 nights
May 19, 2013
Port Canaveral (return): Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $189
Cost per day: $47

Expect the Unexpected on Navigator

We watched a show on the Navigator of the Seas called “The Unexpected Boys.” We had no idea what to expected, as it should be, except that it was a musical featuring the works of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. We’d seen Valli perform, live and in person at age 70. Yes, in his Fifth Season, you might say.

As it turns out, everything about this show is, well, unexpected.

For example, it has four gifted performers, in this case named Scott Pearson, Nick Celona, Doug Carpenter and Aaron Young. Even they didn’t know what to expect.

“We met,” laughs Scott, “on the gangway.”

They come from a company called Bella Notte Productions, and there are about 30 Unexpected Boys at last count. The owner is Brian Noonan, who took his Broadway credits down the street in New York and started his business in 2007.

“At one time,” explains Aaron, “there were seven groups performing on cruises. Everybody was out except the L.A. guys.”

Carpenter is the only bonafide L.A. guy in this group, because that’s home. Young is from Anchorage, Celona from Oklahoma and Pearson from Pittsburgh. The show is not connected to Jersey Boys, a Broadway performance that’s more of a tribute detailing the amazing story of the Four Seasons, and has won 76 Tony Awards doing it.

The Unexpected Boys is not the story of the Four Seasons…it’s a story of four boys, told around the familiar music. Ironically, Jersey Boys and Bella Notte are office neighbors in New York.

These Unexpected Boys, whose energy and engaging skills take cruise-ship entertainment to a high level, have taken different paths to sailing the Western Caribbean on the Navigator.

Scott Pearson, with the falsetto voice that echoes Valli’s, now lives in the Big Apple in search of a Broadway career. He once auditioned for Jersey Boys and remembers it like this:

“They said hurry up and wait until somebody gets sick. I auditioned for Jersey Boys, for Bob Gaudio and Frankie Valli. I had to audition in front of Frankie Valli. He’s got a cool head of hair for 74. He’s still chasing the music. He does a solo act and he’s got four guys down in front doing all the things that the Four Seasons do. He’s a nice guy.”

That he would wind up playing Valli in a production like Unexpected Boys was…again, unexpected.

“I was not a singer or an actor,” he says. “I was a classical pianist. I taught classical piano. I still do. I give piano lessons. I have a piano and voice studio in my apartment, for survival.”

Nick Celona’s was already on the Navigator. Somewhere near the Canary Islands, he got en email asking if he’d like to stay on the ship.

“My mom taught me how to sing,” he explains. “She owns a dance studio and I go back to Oklahoma once a month to do the choreography. That’s how I pay the bills. I want to be on Broadway just once. I don’t care if the show closes on opening night. I want to hit the dream.”

Yet it’s not his passion.

“That’s golf,” he adds. “I like my job with kids because it’s after school, so I can go out and play 18 holes at nine o’clock and still be there. I’m a scratch golfer. That’s my passion. It takes a lot of work, and I don’t play much in New York. If I was in Oklahoma, I’d play every day. I’ve been playing since I was four.”

Aaron Young left Anchorage for “home.”

He explains: “I was always drawn to big-city life. I took theater in school and I got the bug. I knew I wanted to move to New York. At the University of Northern Colorado, I studied musical theater. It worked out, so I’m riding the ride. Baby steps. When I went to New York in middle school, I said ‘This feels like home.’ I don’t know how I was born in Alaska.”

The ride also includes the inevitable part-time job, as an office assistant for a marketing company with a heart — its loyalty and leniency enables Young to be gone when he needs to be, in pursuit of his dream.

“We’re all pursuing the theatrical thing,” Aaron adds. “It’s a side gig. I love traveling and working on something artistic. I do other theater shows, and I’m a cross-country runner. I enjoy New York. You can never explore everything in New York.”

From the opposite side of the country, Doug Carpenter wears the same loyalty on his sleeve.

“I’ve only been gone five days and I miss L.A.,” he says. “I want to teach voice in a college in LA. I want to stay in the sunshine. My background is in opera, but the whole doo-wap sound is timeless. Strong melodies transcend generations. So it appeals to young people, too. I like to work with kids’ opera, and I have a church job.”

Like the others, he knows this gig has a life:

“It’s part-time for everybody. It’s an unexpected call when it comes…THE Unexpected Call.”

So is the curtain call. The opening scene of the Unexpected Boys is not so much scripted as it’s customizable…and we’re not going to tell you precisely what that means because, if you ever get a chance to see this show on the Navigator (or anywhere else), we’d prefer you think that the opening is just what we thought it was.


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