Sunday, May 20, 2012

and the winners are --

Enough of this manufactured suspense.

As you undoubtedly know by now, my entertainment favorites are the production shows featuring the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers. Backed by what is becoming a rarity – a talented nine-piece band providing live music (along with a bit of recorded fill).

They have the “Hey, kids! Let’s put on a show!” exuberance of a Garland-Rooney movie. And even though they are as personable as your talented neighbors, they are professionals.

The on board production shows suffer the same limitations as the headliner acts. They need to be familiar without too many surprises.

The ship has two long-running productions that are definitely showing their age. Broadway Rhythm and Rhyme that has been on board for thirteen years. A pastiche of familiar show tunes. And Music in Pictures. Same idea with movie songs.

In Rhythm and Rhyme, the producers have concocted an interesting twist on Bernstein’s “America” from West Side Story. Every time I have seen the number, the audience shifts uncomfortably.  Too unfamiliar.

For me, it is one of the few moments when the talent is allowed to explore their creativity. And, even though, the more familiar material is predictable, the singers and dancers execute it with great skill.

Fortunately, we got to see just what they can do in their own showcases. Where the singers and dancers designed acts to show just what they can do.

And what they can do is reach out through the dark and connect with their audience. Perhaps disproving that the audiences on board are stodgy.

Part of that is due to the age disparity.  The cast transfer their youthful energy to the rest of us.

If you have wandered through these pages over the last few years, you know that, on each cruise,  I sponsor a “thank you” dinner for the singers and dancers at one of the specialty restaurants.  For two reasons.  To get to know them better.  And to share in their optimism for the future -- one of youth’s gifts.

Let me introduce you to them.  The photographs of the dancers are a bit blurry, but it was the only way I could think of to show the grace of their movements.

Alan Bertozzi -- An athletic and finessed dancer from Rimini, Italy.  One of those entertainers who has been performing for a long time.  Starting at 10.  Favorite style?  Contemporary and jazz.  He has also taught dance in Italy.

Michelle Brandenburg -- A dancer from Baltimore, Maryland.  She started dancing at 3 and attended college on a dance scholarship.  She is not only graceful and beautiful.  She is also brainy -- with a degree in mathematics -- and dance.

Michelle Brown -- A singer from Virginia.  She has been with Royal Caribbean for five years and a professional singer for seven years.  With great pipes.  And a love for Whitney Houston.

Leonne Campbell -- A dancer from Durham, England,.  A graduate of the Central School of Ballet in London, she toured Europe in The Nutcracker for two years ad performed in One Man’s Dream 2 at Disneyland Tokyo in 2008.  She confesses to loving all things Disney.  She dances like a fairy princess.

Christopher Ebarb -- A singer from Virginia.  With a nice variety of styles.  Jazz.  Swing.  Popular.  Broadway.  And a pleasant conversationalist.  I had a nice chat with him about a book I have been reading: Sondheim on Music.

Jordan Ellis -- A singer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  He started performing when he was twelve.  An honors graduate of the Chicago College of Performing Arts, he performed in several productions as a singer and dancer, as well as studying jazz and ballet.  He serves as the cast’s Vocal Captain.  And is incredibly versatile as both a singer and dancer.

Scott Gurney -- The cast’s Dance Captain from Kent, England.  Scott began his career starring in a West End production of Oliver.  He is also an honors graduate.  From Bird College in Kent.  He has previously danced on three other cruise lines before joining Royal Caribbean. A great dancer and an excellent conversationalist.

Melanie C. Konig -- A dancer with an exotic history.  Born in Namibia and raised in Germany, she was another early dancer.  Starting at three.  She has studied performing arts in London and New York.  For the past fourteen years, she has had a varied career.  Teaching dance in Germany, the United Kingdom, France,and Dubai.  Working as a freelance choreographer and dancer.  Working for Royal Caribbean for the past ten years.  She choreographed a German expressionist piece for the dancers’ showcase -- a number that was easily my favorite.

Sharelle Melnichenko -- A singer from Virginia.  She has worked for Royal Caribbean for five years.  Before that she performed in productions of of Cabaret, Little Shop of Horrors, and All Night Strut.  She is married to an ice cast member.  Their home is in Atlanta, Georgia.  Another extremely good singer.

Mary Smigiel -- A dancer whose gymnast background is evident.  She started dancing when she was twelve.  It should surprise no one that she was a statuesque dancer for the NBA for three seasons.  But I was surprised to discover that is is attending the University of Central Florida in nursing.

Ronnie Stripling -- A dancer from Tallahassee, Florida.  For this group, he started dancing rather late in his life.  At sixteen.  But his skills indicate far more experience than that.  He studied dance performance at Oklahoma City University, and worked with Royal Caribbean for two years.

Artem Sushchov -- A dancer from Donetsk, Ukraine.  He started dancing at the Ukrainian National Academic Ensemble of Dance and then worked as a dancer in Shanghai and Dubai.  Since 2005 he has danced on cruise ships.  His ultimate career goal is to be a sports instructor.

Corinne Ventre -- A dancer from Cincinnati, Ohio.  She started dancing at six.  And then graduated from Point Park University with a degree in dance performance.  For the past seven years,she has danced professionally with Exhale Dance Tribe and Royal Caribbean.

Lindsay White -- A dancer from Palm City, Florida.  She has studied ballet, modern, tap, jazz, and contemporary dance.  After graduating from the Palm Beach Ballet Center, she moved to New York City to dance with the Alvin Alley American Dance Theater.

But those are merely résumés.  They do not begin to describe the heart, soul, and talent they put into into their performances.  But their contract is at an end. 

When you read this, they will have left the ship in Dubai and will be headed off in their individual directions to follow their dreams.

As I told them in my toast to them at dinner: “As one if those people sitting out there in the dark, who has been touched by your magic, I salute you.  For the professionals you are.  And will be.”

I wish them well.  They have added more than a little joy to this aged theater buff.


Francisco said...

Excellent post, thanks for the review and the entertainers bios.

Kim G said...

Taking them all to dinner? What an incredibly nice thing to do.

You are indeed one in a million!


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we think the entertainment on your cruise was better than that on my cruise.

tancho said...

If you fail at retirement, you can always run a talent and booking agency...
Nice job! 
Hopefully not the final chapter in the trip logs....

Steve Cotton said...

 Their energy really helped to energize me on this cruise.

Steve Cotton said...

I enjoy those dinners.  Talking with young people who are just starting out in life always makes me more optimistic.  And who would not want to spend time dining with a group of good-looking young people?

Steve Cotton said...

I still have a few odds and ends to share before I get back to Mexico -- physically and blog-wise.

kirsten said...

Steve, you are amazing.  This blog is one of my favorites.  Taking the time to learn and share so much about each entertainer is remarkable.  To top it all off by treating them to dinner...that is a very special generous thing to do.  So happy you enjoyed your cruise and shared it will all of us.  Thanks.  

Steve Cotton said...

I am in Bend right now.  Spending some time with Darrel and Mom.

Felipe Zapata said...

You're a real piece of work, Señor Cotton. A very good post.

Steve Cotton said...

 Thanks.  I head back home to Mexico on Saturday.

Andean said...

The way you captured the different lighting in each photograph is great. t And their faces show how passionate and serious they are of their 
performance. Very nice!

Steve Cotton said...

 It was a joy to write the piece -- and to know the performers.