ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Anchors Aweigh on the Playbill Cruise and Memory Lane with Rory O'Malley

By Seth Rudetsky
06 Aug 2013

The next day we got on the ship (the Seven Seas Voyager) and those of us who grew up in the late 70-80's almost passed out because our cruise director is named Willie —  as in Willie Ames, from "Eight is Enough" and "Charles in Charge"! He's been a cruise director for a few years and he's such a great guy. Since he started his career in the '70's, we got to talking about Disaster! which is the musical I co-wrote based on 1970's disaster movies (opening Off-Broadway this October!). Turns out, Willie was working at the same studio that "The Poseidon Adventure" was being filmed in! He told us that he used to come visit the set every day and say hi to Irwin Allen, who would always be dressed monochromatically: One day, brown shirt, pants, socks, shoes; next day, green shirt, pants socks, shoes.

After a while, Irwin began to avoid Willie on the set and turn away from him. Willie didn't know why and he finally asked someone. He was then told that his daily handshake was too strong and were actually hurting Irwin Allen! First I laughed, then I remembered that when I first met Willie and he shook my hand, I grabbed it away and said, "Ow! I'm a pianist!" Turns out, Irwin Allen could have made a disaster movie about the havoc wreaked by Willie's handshakes throughout the years. Note to self: Check if Betty Buckley still has full use of both hands.

On the way to the ship, all the performers were telling mortifying theatre stories, and Norm Lewis remembered doing a gig where food was being served all night. There was no stage, so he and the woman he was singing with were on the same level as the guests and the waitstaff. Norm remembered singing a sweet, romantic duet with his leading lady standing around 2 feet away. There wasn't much space between them, but apparently there was just enough for a busboy to cross directly between them!

Seth with Norm Lewis, James and Willie Ames