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Cruise Shows the Cheesy Standard?

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I watched the Oscars this year, and I saw the dance bit that Hugh Jackman did with Beyonce. There were top-hats and a few Fosse poses in parts where they really didn’t belong. I couldn’t help noticing Beyonce reprised a few stanzas of her version of “At Last,” the song she sang to Obama on the night of his inauguration – despite the fact that Etta James had sent her a message via the media that “At Last” was her song, and “that young so and so” had no right to “steal” her song.

But here is what gets me about that dance piece. I get a news feed that tracks the words “cruise ship” and sure enough on that day it was flooded with articles about the Oscar show. Why? Because that particular piece was described more than once as being “cheesy enough for a cruise ship show.”

I guess it started in the New York Post where Linda Stasi wrote: “Last night’s Oscar presentation – from the cringe-inducing, bad-taste opening “poor is funny” number that host Hugh Jackman performed like a cheesy cruise-ship entertainer to the endless hours of awards to dull men we’ve never heard of for categories we don’t care about – this “all new” Oscars presentation was like “High School Musical,” the real thing.”

But the cruise ship comparisons didn’t end there.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote, “A later Jackman-fronted medley of movie musical melodies — with guest stars Beyonce, Zac Efron, etc. — would have been more at home on the Tony Awards. Or, perhaps, on a cruise ship.”

The St Joseph News wrote, “Full of rhythmic pep, Jackman announced that the musical was back! Then he took part in a miserable mash of musical snippets that … was like “Cabaret” and the Royal Rumble. It was like Broadway with ADHD. It would have been gold on a cruise ship, but it came off like tungsten in Hollywood. “The musical is back!” Jackman declared. Maybe not for long.”

Even a web site called The Defamer wrote, “Now I’ve been informed by most people I know that the musical numbers made the ceremony appear like the entertainment deck of a cruise ship and therefore should be mocked without mercy…

Mocked without mercy? Hey, Mr. Defamer, it is obvious you have never even been on a cruise ship or you would know there is no such thing as a cruise ship “entertainment deck.”

Modern cruise ships have state of the art theaters with lasers, vari-lites, elevators and turntables built into the stages, orchestra pits, fly systems for scenery and acrobatic aerial performances and even pyrotechnics.

Nevertheless – I know, I know… I was even thinking the same thing as I watched the Oscars. “This looks like a cruise ship show, and it is well… cheesy.” The media descriptions of “dated musical,” are correct, although I have never seen cruise shows descibed as “tungsten.” Not sure what that writer meant, actually, but I doubt it was good.

But it is still depressing. I worked in the entertainment department of various cruise ships for two years and I wrote this editorial in 2000 where I noted what was wrong with the typical cruise show at the time. But most cruise ship pros will say the shows are better now, especially on the most popular lines.

BUT, cruise shows are still somewhat cheesy — sometimes. And what is the definition of cheesy? Well, let’s analyze the piece in the Oscars show and see…

First of all, the gals were in those stage versions of Fosse-girl tuxedos. Yeah, unless you are young enough to have never seen “All That Jazz,” or you are actually watching a Bob Fosse original, those are cheesy.

Why? Because when Fosse used them they represented a character who was a class act on the outside but a sex-starved strumpet on the inside. That naughty contradiction was part of Fosse’s genius – he invented the genre.

But Fosse had his golden age in the sixties and you can’t dress up a stage couple like Sonny and Cher anymore without it looking cheesy – even if it is meant to be a tribute.

The second cheesy aspect – the “medley.” Medleys are dead as an artform except in cruise ship shows. They are as anachronistic as cat costumes at Halloween. In fact – Jackman shouts out a little embarassingly at the end of the piece “The musical is back,” but in my opinion Mamma Mia was cheesy, too, and Sweeney Todd was a great musical movie that bore no resemblance at all to “Sound of Music.”

Bottom line, the truth is that Oscars number did resemble a cruise ship show – fast paced, “change-em-up” dance steps, quick costume changes, tux-wearing showgirls in lookalike wigs and a “medley of hits.” That the greater media at large chooses to describe that as “cheesy” is something for cruise lines to think about. What do you think?

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Comment from Dave Beers
Time February 26, 2009 at 6:50 pm

There are two shows I remember from my cruises, and both were on NCL in the 1990’s. These weren’t the typical “revue” or “medley” shows, which I find exceedingly boring. The SS Norway in 1994 – The Will Rogers Follies. The Norwegian Sea in 1999 – Grease. These were simply brilliant shows that had the crowd totally jazzed. They weren’t revues or some other stale attempt at appearing innovative.

I rarely go to the “main” shows these days unless it is something truly different. I’d rather watch stock cruise ship performers like “El Gaucho” anyday as compared to the “big” shows. At least he is entertaining.

Comment from jeph
Time March 2, 2009 at 12:21 pm

The connection (between the Oscars opening number and stereotypical cruise ship productions) hadn’t occurred to me until it was pointed out, but I can see what they’re talking about. When I watched the broadcast, I just loved the whole tongue-in-cheek concept– “Hey, kids, let’s dress up the barn and put on a show! We’re gonna do a good old-fashioned Hollywood opening number, only this year, we’re gonna do it all on a budget of about twelve dollars and fifty cents!”

Of course, Jackman’s great talent and charm can carry off things far more difficult than that little bit of deliberate silliness. I smiled through the whole thing– it’s a lot better than hearing the list of all the people the guy who won for Best Sound Effects Editing wants to thank.

Comment from Gordon
Time March 2, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Yeah, the cruise ship comparison came to my mind at the same time I was watching Mr. Jackman’s number during the Oscars. However, unlike (apparently) most people, I actualy kind of enjoyed that number – heaven knows, it wasn’t art or maybe even artistic, but it was pleasant enough for what it was and for as long as it lasted. It’s the same, for me, with most cruise ship entertainment. It’s a diversion, a pleasant interlude to share with traveling companions and/or new friends. And like most entertainments, the cruise ship “revue” can be fresh and snappy or tired and stupid. Even then there are limits; we aren’t talking high culture here.

So all these writers yakking about “cruise ship entertainment” are just critics blowing smoke, dismissing the revue as too lowly to possibly provide entertainment and ignoring every other entertainment outlet on the ship. Hey folks, relax, unpucker a little, huh? What’s wrong with a few songs and flashy costume changes and maybe a cocktail, to wile away an hour or so while sailing the high seas? And as Dave Beers pointed out, much of the entertainment on a cruise ship is outside the main showroom, and a lot of it is terrific by any standard.

Personally, I cruise as much for the way ocean travel feeds my spirit as for any other reason, so the entertainment is just part of the setting, and I appreciate it, like the Oscars, for what it is. But I always remember the sunsets a lot longer than I remember the shows.

Comment from Dave Beers
Time March 3, 2009 at 1:57 pm

I’ll admit that I have the jaundiced eye of a seasoned cruiser when it comes to the big shows. After a while they look like the flavor of the week. New cruisers usually love the revues and I think that is great. It just isn’t my cup of tea anymore – although there are exceptions.

I do find myself drawn more to the entertainment outside the main showroom. I love the jazz bands on Carnival cruises, and the Rosario Strings on whatever line they happen to be contracted with. Same with the classical guitarists RCI has playing in the Centrum of their ships.

I know the performers in the big shows work very hard and I shouldn’t dismiss their efforts. I was surprised to learn last year (at an RCI Diamond member Q&A) that big shows can take a year or more to put together, and costs are already in the millions before they do the first show aboard a ship.

Comment from Robin
Time April 4, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Just heard from a TA that Oasis of the Seas is creating a show with the people who did Le Reve at Wynn. If the show in the Aqua Theater is even 1/2 the wow Le Reve is, they will set a new standard for cruise ship entertainment. I’m scouring all the cruise websites now looking for more information on this show. Anyone out there with more info?

Comment from Paul Motter
Time April 4, 2009 at 10:23 pm

In the link above I wrote 6 months ago I use the Le Reve comparison as a loose description of what the shows will be like. I saw Le Reve at the Wynn and it is a great show, as is EAU by Cirque D’ Soliel. (Both shows are in Las Vegas).

Both shows are water-based acrobatic shows. I thnk it will be a fair comparison. The Oasis Aqua Theater has winches for aircrobatics, and trampolines on the sides. It is built specifically for that kind of water and air acrobatic-style show.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they used some of the same people as Le Reve, but I have not heard that said, yet.

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