Regent Costumes: Cruise ship performers come from across the globe and will train for four to six weeks for onboard shows. // © 2016 Marilyn Green
Feature image (above): Seven Seas Explorer will have four 45-minute shows. // © 2016 Regent Seven Seas Cruises
The building is just a building — bland and blocky, located on the outskirts of Tampa, Fla. But inside, it’s another world: a Broadway and Hollywood-esque complex filled with intense, highly professional training for the shows on the ships of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH). In the corridors, young performers clad in black manipulate Chinese ribbons on sticks into snakes and giant circles. Open doors lead to rooms stacked with thousands of costumes that are being created, maintained, repaired and reinvented. There’s a room lined with photos of talent, with their heights and skills noted, as well as some smaller music practice rooms and studios.
Performers come from all over the world for four to six weeks to rehearse for shows on as many as eight or nine NCLH ships, with up to 270 dancers, singers, aerialists and more working in two daily shifts: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 2 p.m. to midnight. Six studios the size of the largest theaters on the ships are set up with exact sets and spaces that will be onboard Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and now Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ newbuild — the extraordinarily luxurious $400 million, 750-passenger Seven Seas Explorer.
Seven Seas Explorer is set to launch this month, complete with four major 45-minute shows, including “Peggy Lee,” a tribute to the American jazz and pop singer, directed by Broadway, stage and television director and choreographer William Whitener; “Burn the Floor,” a return to the music of 1964 and dance styles such as jive, swing, Fosse, contemporary, the Madison and the twist; Parisian-style “Paradis,” developed by Patty Wilcox, who choreographed Broadway's “Motown the Musical” and “A Night With Janis Joplin”; and Tony Award-winning “A Day in Hollywood.”
Huge cases of costumes and props will accompany the performers on Seven Seas Explorer, where they will be on familiar ground after their studio preparation and ready to begin performing after just a few rehearsals.
Since coming under the umbrella of NCLH, Regent’s onboard entertainment has been transformed: Passengers on any weeklong cruise will see three of the elaborate and exciting productions, interspersed with cabaret shows. Many guests will spend time with the performers, whose primary job, even with all the theatrical professionalism demanded of them, is to interact with guests, according to Broadway veteran Richard Ambrose, now vice president of entertainment for NCLH. It was Ambrose who sketched out the entire Tampa facility on a napkin more than three years ago.
After rehearsing entertainers in pickup locations in different parts of the country, NCLH chose Tampa as its training center in part because of its air access and reasonable real estate, but also because of its pool of talent connected with nearby parks such as Walt Disney World Resort and Busch Gardens. The eight full-time facility staff and dozens of creative specialty workers do everything from making shoes to choreographing tap routines in the main building, which is bursting at the seams with the products of three cruise lines. The complex also has 52 two-bedroom apartments, which each house four performers, as well as 30 to 45 creative-staff passenger vans, a fleet of cars and more to support the extremely focused training.
And the process is endless: Seven Seas Explorer’s cast is impressive in rehearsals, with weeks to go before they board the ship, but each cast’s contract runs a maximum of six months, so the staff is already looking at talent for the next group that will take over at the beginning of 2017.