Behind The Stage
It's Show Time! Aboard
Holland America Line
by Linda Coffman
As a passenger, I've enjoyed the entertainment aboard many cruise
ships, most recently while sailing to Alaska on Holland America
Line's ms Westerdam.
As a former dance student, I appreciate creative choreography and the talent it takes
for dancers to perform intricate steps on a
moving stage. How do they do that?
For the 14-member cast consisting of lead singers,
singer-dancers, and dancers aboard a Holland America Line ship, it
all starts at Stiletto Entertainment, an international entertainment
production company based in Los Angeles. After the casting call goes
out, auditions are held in cities worldwide. The cast assembles in
Los Angeles and rehearsals take place for a month to six weeks.
Each Holland America Line ship has two production shows, one of
them unique to that vessel. Aboard Westerdam in Alaska, the productions were
a Broadway-style show "Grand Tour" and
a movie musical concert "Stage & Screen"
With costumes created by Bob Mackie (who has designed for
such notable entertainers as Cher, Tina Turner, Liza Minnelli, and
even Oprah), the "Stage & Screen" show follows the theme suggested in
from the Broadway stage and Hollywood screen. The familiar
tunes are comfortable favorites presented with a fresh twist and
costume changes too numerous to count.
In order to discover how they do that, we went behind
the stage afterward to find out.
The mix of lights and sound is entirely computerized and the nerve
center of it all is tucked into a corner of the stage hidden from
view by the curtain. In addition to props and scenery,
stage technicians busily handle the curtains and lifts in
$12 million dollar theater. While 750 passengers are comfortably
seated out front, on stage the techs control five computerized lifts—four
that retract to the deck below and a turntable. The entire crew of
technicians is certified to safely handle pyrotechnics.
Worst case scenario during a show? Just like shoreside—a
computer crash! There are other hazards at sea as well. In rough
weather when the stage moves in unpredictable ways, physical lifts
are removed from the choreography, the dancers wear flat shoes, and
some stage lifts are also eliminated to avoid
In the case of really rough seas, a show may be cancelled or
While music is all pre-taped, the singers utilize live
microphones and the only time there is lip-synching is when a singer
has a sore throat. For those rare instances, they have prepared a
"sick" track of their own voice and the show goes on. In the
event that a dancer suffers an injury and cannot appear, the
remaining troupe members reblock their positions to fill in the missing performer's
spot on stage. Cast members average six months working
and the shows appear seamless.
Further Behind the Curtain
The real surprise back stage is the dressing rooms. Cast members
utilize two spaces (one for women, the other for men) that are no
larger than many modern master bathrooms.
In those tight
spaces, singers and dancers set out costumes, shoes, and wigs and
are assisted with lightning fast changes between numbers by eight
Indonesian "dressers" from the Westerdam's laundry crew.
While the Dance Captain
is responsible for assuring that productions shows run smoothly, and
one cast member is ultimately in charge of costumes (the dress worn
by the lead singer for "Over The Rainbow" is valued at $10,000),
it's those essential "dressers" who make sure the performers arrive on stage
with snaps snapped, hooks hooked, and shoes buckled. Wardrobe malfunctions are rare.
Months of preparation and rehearsals have taken place for your
enjoyment, so take a seat and relax. It's Show Time!