DIVA TALK AT SEA: Broadway (and Homeward) Bound

DIVA TALK AT SEA: Broadway (and Homeward) Bound Diva Talk hits the sea this week as the Norwegian Dawn travels from New York City to Nova Scotia and Massachusetts with a host of Broadway performers.

***************

Day Seven: Saturday, July 16

Today marks the final full day aboard the mammoth 13-deck Norwegian Dawn for the 2,100 people who have created a large family during one week's time.

We will all dock in New York City early Sunday morning, so this will be the last of the "Diva Talk At Sea" columns. Before I get to my final thoughts of the trip, I'd like to discuss tonight's phenomenal show in the Stardust Theatre, which was arranged by musical director/conductor Seth Rudetsky, who was featured on piano along with a seven-piece band.

The concert began with Saturday Night Fever's Orfeh, who, centerstage, belted out Hair's best-known tune, "Aquarius." The evening's other singers then filled the aisles of the theatre, joining Orfeh on the soaring tune. Anika Larsen and Aisha de Haas followed with a thrilling version of Rent's "lesbian duet," "Take Me or Leave Me." After the two women finished, host Rosie O'Donnell told the enthusiastic crowd, "We need a show called 'American Broadway Idol,' because they're so much better than the people on 'American Idol.'" Gavin Creel reprised his spirited renditon of "Going Down" from last year's Actors' Fund Benefit Concert of Hair, and then former Taboo star Liz McCartney deliviered the comical David Friedman tune, "My Simple Christmas Wish."

The first of the evening's standing ovations followed Ledisi's stentorian take of the classic pop song "Natural Woman." A trio of white boys -- including Gavin Creel -- sang Hair's "Black Boys," while the multitalented Darius de Haas countered with a terrific "White Boys."

Another of the evening's showstoppers was Broadway favorite Liz Callaway, who reprised her Baby anthem, "The Story Goes On." Callaway belted the David Shire-Richard Maltby Jr. tune with gusto, especially thrilling on the song's lengthy final note. The finale featured the full company singing Hair's "Let the Sunshine In." The voices swelled to a thrilling climax that brought the audience once again to its feet.

O'Donnell urged the audience to catch a Broadway show the next time they visit New York, and she then introduced a video she created during the past week, which featured a photo montage of the many families on board the ship. "I never thought when we put together last year's cruise," said O'Donnell, "that I would be feeding off of the love I felt here all year."

Simple guitar strummings accompanied the photo montage, which was quite moving. When the video was complete, the film screen rose to reveal the evening's surprise guest, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, who was greeted by what was perhaps the week's most ecstatic reception.

Etheridge, who said she's known O'Donnell for 17 years, spoke of the former talk-show host's generosity before dedicating the song "Enough of Me" to O'Donnell. Etheridge, who's been aboard the ship all week, told the audience to "go home and take the experience with you. Know you can live your lives like this."

Etheridge closed her brief set with "Giant," forcefully singing, "Now I am stronger than before/ And we are standing side by side/ We are determined now to win/ We've come too far/ And we've got the scars/ And we are never going back into the shadows again./ I am a giant/ And you will not make me fall/ And you will not make me crawl/ I am a giant/ And I'm not alone/ Winds of change have blown/ How the walls come tumbling down."

***************

REFLECTIONS OF THE WEEK
Favorite Story: While we were docked at Provincetown, one of the two-mommy families went for lunch at the Lobster Pot, which features giant lobster tanks filled with the sea creatures. When their six-year-old boy realized the fate of the lobsters, he -- unbeknownst to his moms -- called 911 to say "someone is being harmed." Emergency workers arrived on the scene much to everyone's surprise to see who exactly was in danger.

Most touching moment concerned the family composed of foster children, who spoke with Rosie O'Donnell on the stage of the ship's Stardust Theatre. When one of the teenage girls told Rosie her life story (when the young girl came out to her religious mother, her mom kicked her out of the house and put her into the foster care system), O'Donnell instantly responded by saying that she and her entire new family would receive free cruises for as long as RFamily Vacations is in existence. It was such a genuine, heartfelt reaction from O'Donnell, and I'd have to wager there was not a dry eye in the house.

Favorite visual moment was observing the joy on the faces of the young, adorable kids who seemed to love every moment aboard the ship. I was also struck by the beauty of the diversity of the children and the families and by how that diversity was embraced by all.

***************

FINAL THOUGHTS
What Rosie and Kelli O'Donnell and Gregg Kaminsky have created is a small world unto itself, a place where gay and lesbian parents and their children can enjoy what straight families may take for granted. For one week a year, these beautiful children have the chance to meet others like themselves and need not fear the reaction to the statement, "I have two daddies" or "I have two mommies." And, the parents have a similar opportunity to bond with other gay and lesbian parents, who face similar struggles in raising their kids in a world that is not always as accepting as one would hope. For that one week, these loving moms and dads can watch their kids experience what every parent would like for their children: pure joy.

I'd like to think that cruises like this one -- and the forthcoming documentary about last year's premiere cruise -- will help make those in doubt realize that families can, should and do come in all sorts of flavors and varieties. And, as long as there is love in a family, what else is necessary?

Perhaps, someday, these parents and children won't have only one week a year, but 52 of them where they can live without any worry about how their "non-traditonal" families are perceived. And, then the cruise will become a time to celebrate all the changes that have been made in our world. Well, that's what I'd like to think.

Thanks for sharing my trip with me. Until next time, happy sailing, and, of course, happy diva-watching!