The phrase ‘cruise ship singer’ has been used as an insult on TV talent shows for years. Generally speaking, the people who use that insult strike me as the kind of people who have never actually been on a cruise so have no idea what they are talking about.
However, it is fair to say, cruise ship entertainment can be a real mixed bag. The shows with the singers & dancers are often a series of vaguely connected pop songs performed with enthusiasm three times a night. These performers are great. Unlike Broadway stars, they get to perform in a variety of styles on a guaranteed contract with no risk of the show getting terrible reviews and closing after six performances.
The performers rehearse on the ship, with no understudy. If somebody is ill or injured, everybody else just does extra. I remember one show that was supposed to have thirteen people on stage, seven had a vomiting bug and the other six had to everything and change their wigs a lot. There is no wardrobe and make up department, the performers have to maintain their own costumes which means there is little room for indulgence in the buffet.
Something else to factor in, is the movement of the ship. The dancers jump up and while they are in the air, the floor has moved. While the shows might be a bit ‘ropey’, the performers are amazing.
This is not always the case for the guest entertainers. These are people who fly to the ship, sail for a few days, and then fly away in the next port. They can sail on three different ships in a week and get paid per show, if they plan carefully this can make for a very lucrative career. However, it is fair to say that many of these people are way past their best and can be very hard to work with.
Examples that stick in my memory include:
- A member of a very famous 70s band who can’t walk onto the stage and wheezes throughout the show
- A successful Broadway actress who answers her phone (every time it rings) by singing the entire chorus of the song she won a Tony for
- A 90s TV performer who reads his entire show from cue cards and even though it is the same every time, still gets the cards mixed up
- A variety show ventriloquist who insists everyone addresses his puppet with any questions rather than him directly
- A record-breaking English sportsman’s wife who refuses to talk about her husband and instead does her entire show in broken French to the bemusement of all concerned
These people used to cause me so many problems, many of them couldn’t really function without somebody to look after them and seemed to forget their luggage, miss the ship, get arrested or deported for having the wrong visas on an alarmingly regular basis.
One of my favourite pieces of guest feedback concerns an American TV star from the late 1980s who would come on board every week to do a concert about his career. The complaint was that the concert would have been better had he not been in it.
When it comes to entertainment, I’ll take a ‘cruise ship singer’ rather than these so-called guest entertainers. Just writing this has made me realise how little I miss them all.