Warren Carlyle is helming a brand-new musical featuring songs by Ryan Scott Oliver and Grammy winner Albita—but it’s not on Broadway. In fact, ¡HAVANA! isn’t even in New York, city or state. The new musical has been created exclusively for Norwegian Cruise Line and its newest ship, Norwegian Bliss.
Carlyle first became involved with Norwegian Cruise Line when they bought the rights to his Broadway revue After Midnight. “It was such a happy, collaborative experience that I was eager to create more with them,” Carlyle says. “Norwegian Cruise Line's standards for entertainment are very, very high and with Richard Ambrose, as the head of entertainment, leading the charge, each year the entertainment on their ships improves.”
Thus, when Ambrose approached Carlyle about creating a new show exclusively for Norwegian Cruise Line, the director-choreographer jumped at the chance. “He wanted something Cuban and I was immediately fascinated by the idea,” Carlyle remembers. “I love ‘going to school’ and the thought of immersing myself in Cuban music and Cuban culture really excited me.”
With a running time of 90 minutes, the show is a mixture of pre-existing songs and original music from Albita and story-driven songs by Oliver. “The choreography feels the same as the music: a good mixture,” Carlyle says. “Some classic 1950s moves and some wildly contemporary moments that keep the audience guessing what will happen next.
“I think the show is a good fit for now because it’s always a good time for great music and great dance,” Carlyle adds. “It’s the perfect show to escape with for 90 minutes. Socially, it’s also a particularly good time to underline diversity in all departments and Cuba has an especially diverse culture.”
For everyone involved, recruiting a cast of actors-singers-dancers who reflected the cultural diversity of Cuba was a vital part of the process. As Manager of Theatrical Casting Kai Carrier says, “The island has strong multi-ethnic roots stemming from Europe, South America and Africa. Our first cast of dancers, actors and musicians combines a plethora of nationalities and ethnic backgrounds including, Cuban, Dominican, Brazilian, Puerto Rican, Russian, Italian, Argentinian, Australian, and American.”
Carlyle says that casting performers for Norwegian Cruise Line shows is exactly the same for him as when he works on Broadway. “In casting for the ships, I look for the same standard of dancer, singer, and actor that I would look for on Broadway,” he says. “The show is extremely demanding for the dancers and I need strong bodies with great dance technique. Richard Ambrose is very keen to raise the standard of the cast every single contract and my team, and I do our best to meet his needs. We all care deeply about this.”
Each performer’s contract lasts for six months, putting Carrier and his full-time casting team Erika Holmes and Brian Baez at Norwegian Cruise Line in the singular position of recruiting 900 performers a year. “We audition world-wide, but in 2019 we’ll be focusing auditions for ¡HAVANA! in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and the U.S.,” Carrier adds.
Work on ¡HAVANA! also affected Carlyle in unexpected ways. “Every day of this process I learned something. It was the best kind of ‘culture school’ for me,” he says. “My heart is now bigger, I express passion more easily and frequently, and my hips move much more when I dance!”