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Cruise lines bring seaworthy revues ashore

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Shows that hold waterCruise lines bring seaworthy revues ashore.

By Jack Zink, Theater Writer - SouthFlorida.com

A generation ago, MaryAnn Delany was the lead dancer in South Florida's most celebrated floor shows, director Barry Ashton's Paris-style "folies" revues at the Americana Hotel in Bal Harbour. Today, she oversees the theatrical productions for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, and is determined to bring them back to port.

Delany is putting together What the World Needs Now Is Swing, Swing, Swing for a test engagement starting Wednesday at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale. It's a fusion of two current shows in the cruise line's show portfolio. The first, a theatrical revue of Burt Bacharach's songbook, is followed after intermission by a big-band swing-era retrospective not unlike the 2000 Broadway musical Swing!

It's the latest and most ambitious move in a 3-year-old program called Sea To Land that Royal Caribbean producer Paul Hardy developed when the company began getting requests to perform its shows at travel conferences and industry conventions. The next step was to market the pre-packaged shows to business conferences and conventions in general.

Last autumn, the team at the company's Hollywood entertainment headquarters decided it was time to go public. "We're proud of what we do, and want people to compare it with land-based shows," Delany says.

The cruise industry was historically considered an artistic backwater for low-budget variety shows and nondescript entertainers, but that began changing in the 1980s. The large ships coming on line over the past five years or so have theaters and nightclubs built to the same standards as arts centers and the best cabarets.

Hardy adds, "With all the new ships being built and the competition with other cruise lines, we're building shows to appeal to the next generation of audiences."

While some ships continue with the older lounge entertainment formats, Hardy and Delany (along with others in their field) say that competition for entertainment to fill them and meet expectations also has driven up the production values and intensified the quest for talent.

Audition "tours" by cruise representatives routinely scour Paris, London, Sydney, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Toronto, New York and other cities, as well as Miami. "Our motto at Royal Caribbean Productions used to be that we were the first step toward Broadway for a performer," Delany says. "We stopped using it when performers with Broadway credits started coming to us."

Royal Caribbean has won numerous firsts in cruise-industry entertainment ratings, says Hardy. So has Jean Ann Ryan Productions, which mounts Broadway and Las Vegas-style shows for Norwegian Cruise Lines from Ryan's headquarters and rehearsal studio in Fort Lauderdale.

Ryan began producing hotel supperclub revues and floor shows in the 1970s, moving offshore with Norwegian a decade later. She still does occasional land-based shows but lately, like Royal Caribbean's Sea To Land project, they've been geared primarily to conventions and sponsored events.

Royal Caribbean is the only line that builds all its entertainment with an in-house production company, Delany says. To do so, a grocery store on Hollywood Boulevard near I-95 was converted into an 18,000-square-foot production headquarters and rehearsal studios in 2001. The company later bought the Crown Liquors store next door, converting it into the operation's costume center.

At any one time, five full-scale floor shows are in rehearsal for rotation onto the ships. A total of 42 theme shows are in repertory throughout the fleet at this moment, Hardy says. What the World Needs Now and Swing, Swing Swing have both finished their shipboard runs (which can last as long as five years for a popular show). Out front will be singer Hal Frazier, a veteran of the TV variety and talk-show circuit (from Ed Sullivan to Steve Allen to Merv Griffin) who has spent the latter part of his career at Royal Caribbean.

The Bacharach revue features a quartet working complex vocal lines by creator and arranger Scot Wooley, backed by a seven-piece band (plus Wooley, who calls himself the "fifth voice"). Echoing producer Delany's comments about higher talent levels, Brian Mills says there is a significant improvement in the level of respect performers get from both audiences and peers than was common a decade ago. And Danielle Rhodes is one of those performers flipping back and forth from theatrical to cruise shows, having just come off the national tour of Oliver!

The band loosens up for the brassier Swing revue with an additional ensemble of eight dancers. Wooley says that Swing played a South American itinerary, with its songs sung in English but its spoken dialogue in Portuguese. Both the Bacharach and Swing shows are being retooled with cast changes for the Parker run. The two are matched because most cruise shows run 50 minutes -- dubbed "tab" shows in the business. Delany says that various packages in the Royal Caribbean repertoire can be fit into two-act land-based attractions for theaters and opera houses, or run solo at casinos.

Although no deal is yet in the works, Hardy smiles broadly when he says that the Royal Caribbean format would be a good fit for the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, just a few miles distant.

While Las Vegas resorts are legendary for their expensive floor shows, the new hotel/casino operations in Connecticut, Mississippi and the Seminole's Florida locations have showrooms, but not enough of a market to produce their own extravaganzas. Hardy sees Royal Caribbean's pre-packaged shows as ideal for filling those venues -- and he's not forgetting about Branson, Missouri, either.

Where does the Parker engagement fit into all this? "It will help us to determine when and where we move next," Delany says, "not whether we will or won't."

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Shows that hold waterCruise lines bring seaworthy revues ashore.

By Jack Zink, Theater Writer - SouthFlorida.com

A generation ago, MaryAnn Delany was the lead dancer in South Florida's most celebrated floor shows, director Barry Ashton's Paris-style "folies" revues at the Americana Hotel in Bal Harbour. Today, she oversees the theatrical productions for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, and is determined to bring them back to port.

Delany is putting together What the World Needs Now Is Swing, Swing, Swing for a test engagement starting Wednesday at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale. It's a fusion of two current shows in the cruise line's show portfolio. The first, a theatrical revue of Burt Bacharach's songbook, is followed after intermission by a big-band swing-era retrospective not unlike the 2000 Broadway musical Swing!

It's the latest and most ambitious move in a 3-year-old program called Sea To Land that Royal Caribbean producer Paul Hardy developed when the company began getting requests to perform its shows at travel conferences and industry conventions. The next step was to market the pre-packaged shows to business conferences and conventions in general.

Last autumn, the team at the company's Hollywood entertainment headquarters decided it was time to go public. "We're proud of what we do, and want people to compare it with land-based shows," Delany says.

The cruise industry was historically considered an artistic backwater for low-budget variety shows and nondescript entertainers, but that began changing in the 1980s. The large ships coming on line over the past five years or so have theaters and nightclubs built to the same standards as arts centers and the best cabarets.

Hardy adds, "With all the new ships being built and the competition with other cruise lines, we're building shows to appeal to the next generation of audiences."

While some ships continue with the older lounge entertainment formats, Hardy and Delany (along with others in their field) say that competition for entertainment to fill them and meet expectations also has driven up the production values and intensified the quest for talent.

Audition "tours" by cruise representatives routinely scour Paris, London, Sydney, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Toronto, New York and other cities, as well as Miami. "Our motto at Royal Caribbean Productions used to be that we were the first step toward Broadway for a performer," Delany says. "We stopped using it when performers with Broadway credits started coming to us."

Royal Caribbean has won numerous firsts in cruise-industry entertainment ratings, says Hardy. So has Jean Ann Ryan Productions, which mounts Broadway and Las Vegas-style shows for Norwegian Cruise Lines from Ryan's headquarters and rehearsal studio in Fort Lauderdale.

Ryan began producing hotel supperclub revues and floor shows in the 1970s, moving offshore with Norwegian a decade later. She still does occasional land-based shows but lately, like Royal Caribbean's Sea To Land project, they've been geared primarily to conventions and sponsored events.

Royal Caribbean is the only line that builds all its entertainment with an in-house production company, Delany says. To do so, a grocery store on Hollywood Boulevard near I-95 was converted into an 18,000-square-foot production headquarters and rehearsal studios in 2001. The company later bought the Crown Liquors store next door, converting it into the operation's costume center.

At any one time, five full-scale floor shows are in rehearsal for rotation onto the ships. A total of 42 theme shows are in repertory throughout the fleet at this moment, Hardy says. What the World Needs Now and Swing, Swing Swing have both finished their shipboard runs (which can last as long as five years for a popular show). Out front will be singer Hal Frazier, a veteran of the TV variety and talk-show circuit (from Ed Sullivan to Steve Allen to Merv Griffin) who has spent the latter part of his career at Royal Caribbean.

The Bacharach revue features a quartet working complex vocal lines by creator and arranger Scot Wooley, backed by a seven-piece band (plus Wooley, who calls himself the "fifth voice"). Echoing producer Delany's comments about higher talent levels, Brian Mills says there is a significant improvement in the level of respect performers get from both audiences and peers than was common a decade ago. And Danielle Rhodes is one of those performers flipping back and forth from theatrical to cruise shows, having just come off the national tour of Oliver!

The band loosens up for the brassier Swing revue with an additional ensemble of eight dancers. Wooley says that Swing played a South American itinerary, with its songs sung in English but its spoken dialogue in Portuguese. Both the Bacharach and Swing shows are being retooled with cast changes for the Parker run. The two are matched because most cruise shows run 50 minutes -- dubbed "tab" shows in the business. Delany says that various packages in the Royal Caribbean repertoire can be fit into two-act land-based attractions for theaters and opera houses, or run solo at casinos.

Although no deal is yet in the works, Hardy smiles broadly when he says that the Royal Caribbean format would be a good fit for the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, just a few miles distant.

While Las Vegas resorts are legendary for their expensive floor shows, the new hotel/casino operations in Connecticut, Mississippi and the Seminole's Florida locations have showrooms, but not enough of a market to produce their own extravaganzas. Hardy sees Royal Caribbean's pre-packaged shows as ideal for filling those venues -- and he's not forgetting about Branson, Missouri, either.

Where does the Parker engagement fit into all this? "It will help us to determine when and where we move next," Delany says, "not whether we will or won't."

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