Cruise ship production shows have matured considerably in recent years, elevating live performances once almost exclusively dominated by revues.
Many medleys of popular songs remain, but the best shows are even making those treatments better. Meanwhile, Broadway-caliber narratives and boundary-pushing spectacles raise the bar higher still.
So here are my picks for six of the best stage productions on a cruise ship.
The high energy performances of Carnival Cruise Line’s casts have always stood out, but Carnival Vista is on another level with a show like “Flick.” The tribute to motion pictures is not just a dime-a-dozen rehash of pop songs from movies. It very cleverly follows a miming character as he effectively inserts himself into each film and number from the dramatic to the whimsical. It’s a fantastic concept as we can all imagine being enveloped by our favorite movies. This performance executes it wonderfully through song and dance.
Harmony of the Seas
Royal Caribbean International is astounding in so many ways with the Harmony of the Seas, and its production of “Grease” is definitely one of the ship’s highlights. In fact, it’s as close to perfect as a traditional Broadway show can be. The cast is incredibly good, and the backing band that plays live in studio adds an amazing energy to the total effort. The acting, singing, dancing and playing are all top notch. Classic numbers are reinvigorated with the modern cast that leaves guests tapping their toes all the way to the onboard Johnny Rockets.
‘Rock of Ages’
While it may celebrate a different era and attitude of rock 'n' roll than “Grease,” Norwegian Cruise Line’s “Rock of Ages” on Norwegian Breakaway is just as fun in a playful, irreverent fashion. I honestly didn't care much for the recent film adaptation of this musical, but the shipboard version is a standout that will leave you laughing and singing along. The rock band that is featured front and center plays straight all the way through, and the energy is unbelievably intense throughout. But don’t stop believing, as Journey reminds us.
‘Disney Dreams – An Enchanted Classic’
Disney Magic & Disney Wonder
Disney Cruise Line is remarkable for its company of singers, dancers and technicians employing seemingly every known theatrical technique in order to pull at the audience’s heartstrings. Disney knows story, and it knows how to present it musically with an unmatched in-house songbook. “Disney Dreams – An Enchanted Classic” specifically follows the journey of a girl as she rediscovers her ability to believe as her bedroom is magically transformed with the help of some visitors with great character. Sequences featuring numbers from “The Little Mermaid” are particularly powerful. See it on Disney Magic or Disney Wonder.
‘Frozen, A Musical Spectacular’
Continuing Disney’s tradition of excellence is “Frozen, A Musical Spectacular” aboard Disney Wonder. The corporate film studio had a hit on its hands with the animated film, and seeing it interpreted live is a magical experience. New projection mapping technologies allow the theater to be engulfed in the scenery as much as the stage, and the transformation of Queen Elsa’s costume is expertly rendered as well. Also worth a mention is the ace puppetry, accompanying the actors, in service of the timeless story.
Anthem of the Seas
The most unique show of the bunch is “Spectra’s Cabaret” for fully taking advantage of the multipurpose Two70 venue on Royal Caribbean International’s Anthem of the Seas. Live singers, dancers, instrumentalists and aerial acrobatics perform amid six kinetic Roboscreens and in front of the 12K-resolution Vistarama screen. Depending on where you sit, the action quite literally happens all around you. It’s a breathtaking overall display that visually brings to life music like you’ve never seen or heard before.
Also, be on the lookout for MSC Meraviglia, debuting next month with two Cirque Du Soleil at Sea shows developed for the cruise line that will be performed six nights a week.