It's actually hard to tell who's a gay parent and who's straight and just lucked into this cruise. But it's not hard to tell who my mother is. She's the one who loudly asked me why there was an alcoholic buffet (it's a chocoholic buffet) and the one who dropped and shattered her plate at breakfast because "my wrist doesn't work right . . . and why don't they have trays on this cruise?" She's obsessed with the fact that you have to carry your plate without a tray at the upstairs buffet. "All the other cruises had trays! I'm going to complain." That's fun to hear five times a day.
All right, let's start from the first day. I'm on board as the music director for some of the shows as well as a comic/host. The cruise left from Miami on Sunday, and the other performers and I got to board early because we had to rehearse all day to get ready for our first big performance that night. Normally, "Rosie's Broadway Belters" is on the last night of the cruise, but on this cruise, Rosie could only stay for three days because she had to get back to "The View." The opening number was written by Michael Lee Scott and myself and was set to "One" from A Chorus Line:
ALL: We're…going on vacation
Now's the time to get away
And…here's a little detail
ROSIE: Everybody is gay! (ALL: Except a few of you…)
The "Ooh, sigh" section was
ALL: Sit back, it's time for some relaxing
ROSIE: Thank God, I did bikini waxing…
Cheap, yes, but any joke about "down there" usually works.
After the opening, Rosie did some stand up, telling a few scandalous stories and hilariously dishing certain celebs. There were numerous people in the audience videotaping, and she said she was prepared to see herself on youtube and then be the lead story on "Entertainment Tonight." The first act was Jimmy Smagula, who sang as an audience member of "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" show in the late nineties. Rosie told him he should be on Broadway, and since then he's been in The Full Monty, Man of La Mancha and is currently understudying Piangi as well as performing in the ensemble of The Phantom of the Opera. Or, as Rosie said, starring in The Phantom of the Opera. Jimmy did a beautiful version of "Being Alive" which he also sang in the audience of "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," so everything came full circle. And, he hit the "A" at the end with full vibrato.!
Also on hand was Malcolm Gets who sang the hi-larious "Way Ahead of My Time" by Peter Mills, which is about a cave man (Geico?) who's the world's first homosexual (Gayco?). Kathy Brier did a brassy version of "Good Morning Baltimore," making the bold choice of not wearing shoes because the boat was rocky and she was not in the mood to sing "Good Morning Broken Coccyx." She sounded so brilliant I was shocked when she told me she could not get an audition for the original production. After the show opened, she finally got called in, became the stand-by and then took over the role. Brava!
Rosie introduced Marya Grandy as "Gopher's daughter," and it wasn't a misnomer. Her Dad is Fred Grandy ("The Love Boat"), and she began working on this boat as part of the team that helps the passengers board, sings in the opening show, does poolside shows for the kids and generally is there to help if you need them. The late, great Tim Albrecht introduced me to her and said she was a great singer, and of course, since I'm a vocal chords connoisseur, I thought "I'm sure she's fine, but not what I'd call a sasstress." Well, Marya had her first solo last year in the "Broadway Belters" show and turns out, Tim was right. She has an incredible voice! This year she sang "The Wizard and I," and Miss Thing better be in that green make-up when Julia Murney leaves the show because her Elphaba would be El-phabulous! Since the first cruise three years ago, she went Off-Broadway to play one of the three sassy sidekicks in The Great American Trailer Park Musical and is now understudying Madame Thénardier and in the ensemble of Les Miz. Or, according to Rosie, starring in Les Miz.
Rosie then introduced Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley who sang "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" For those of you who've seen the cruise documentary, "All Aboard," you saw Paul Castree and Gavin Creel touchingly singing that duet from Side Show. It was extra special, though, to have the two originators on the boat to sing it. Because it's about being an outsider, it's always seemed to me to be a song about what most gay people go through growing up. Rosie called it "the gay anthem," and Emily and Alice blended beautifully together getting people psyched about their own show that they're performing later in the week.
The finale was the rousing "You Can't Stop The Beat". Esera Tuaolo, the gay ex-football player sang Motormouth Maybelle's part (down only one step!), and Rosie sang Edna Turnblad's. Kathy Brier was Tracy again, and Paul Castree, still looking like a teenager, was Link. We had the original Penny, Kerry Butler, sing her part. I'm obsessed with how she says her lead-in line with all that high-pitched Penny Pingleton awkwardness but then suddenly starts singing with low sexy funkiness. Work that contrast! The whole number ended with a big confetti blast like on "The View," but minus the dancing toilet paper roll.
Gloria Estefan was Monday's entertainer, and entertain she did. She said that they told her that her show should be only 45 minutes, so she knew she could only do her hits. Thank goodness! I hate seeing someone that has tons of signature songs and refuses to perform them, instead focusing on their "newer, mellower sound." Haul out the hits!
Tuesday we docked in Puerto Rico's Old San Juan. My mother said she visited it years ago, but claimed back then it was only called San Juan. When was she there? 1847? Anyway, Tuesday night was supposed to be Kathy Griffin, but her dad died suddenly, and she had to cancel. Everyone felt terrible for her loss, and she promised to come back for the July cruise. To take the place of Kathy, the comedy show was moved to Tuesday night with Poppy Champlin ("My real name is Poppy…my parents were heroin addicts") and the zaftig Jessica Kirson ("A homeless guy asked me for food. Sir? Do I look like I have any leftovers?"). I hosted it and, yet again, the boat was in full wobble. The only way I could steady myself was to go into a full split which I tried to do but ended at two thirds of the way down. I'm busted because my trainer tells me to stretch every day, but I haven't actually done any stretching since the only movie-to-musical on Broadway was Big. I showed some of my classic "Brady Bunch Variety Hour" clips (The H.R. Pufnstuf resident short girl dressed as a duck doing the Charleston to Disco Duck segueing into Rip Taylor singing "Tangerine" with Ann B. Davis who is in an Elizabethan powdered wig.)
Wednesday we were in Antigua on the beach (note to self: do crunches), and that night was Darius de Haas' Stevie Wonder show entitled "Songs of Wonder." Darius' tone is so beautiful, and his musicality is superb. His arrangements were super-creative, and Paul Castree and I were dumbstruck in the audience, obsessed with his range. He would riff all the way up a scale with no vocal break whatsoever, and after the show, Paul and I kept trying to sing what Darius did but wound up cracking more than Harvey Johnson in "The Telephone Hour."
Well, I have to go rehearse the upcoming shows: Emily and Alice and, yes, "Grease is the Word" Gregg Kaminsky (who runs the cruise with Kelli O'Donnell) thought it would be fun to end the week with a fifties show, so we're hauling out "Summer Lovin'" featuring The Light in the Piazza's Sarah Uriarte Berry as Sandy as well as Anika Larsen singing the lesbian-subtexted "A Little Less Conversation" from All Shook Up. I got four guys to do some Forever Plaid (one of my favorite shows), and we're also gonna perform "Without Love." I know Hairspray takes place in the early sixties, but it's close enough, and I have Kerry and Kathy on board and, most importantly, I love that song!
All in all, the cruise has been wonderful, as usual. I ran into a woman on the beach in St. Thomas who won the cruise on "The View." She's a married woman with grandchildren, and she said she wants to book the next one because it's been so great! Kerry Butler and her husband just adopted a baby from Ethiopia, so they said it's been great for them to see other mixed race families and connect with them. As Kerry said to me near the waffle bar at breakfast, "There's such a feeling of love on the ship." And, as my mother said, "Where are the trays?"
[Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway." For two years Rudetsky was the pianist/assistant conductor for the 1994 revival of Grease!. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.]