Broadway shows have a knack for transporting audiences to far-off and unusual places, but it’s the ocean that can pose a challenge on stage. Mountains, cities, and fields are easy to recreate, but water features require a technical triple somersault of costumes, set design, and lighting.
This Cole Porter musical follows several characters aboard the SS American as they deal with romance, fake identities, and the mob. Several stars of the Great White Way have played Reno Sweeney, the tap-dancing nightclub singer, including Ethel Merman, Patti LuPone, and Sutton Foster, who won a Tony for her performance in 2011. That revival also starred Colin Donnell, Laura Osnes, and Joel Grey.
Dames at Sea
Bernadette Peters earned her first Drama Desk award for playing chorus girl Ruby in this Off-Broadway musical from George Haimsohn, Robin Miller, and Jim Wise. The show follows the cast of a Broadway musical that is forced to move the show onto a ship after their theatre is torn down. Dames at Sea debuted Off-Broadway in 1968 but the show didn’t make it to the Main Stem until 2015, starring Eloise Kropp (Cats) as Ruby and Lesli Margherita (Matilda) as the demanding diva, Mona Kent.
The Eighth Wonder of the World made his Broadway debut in 2018 in a musical with a book by Jack Thorne and score by Eddie Perfect. The show earned a special Tony award for its work bringing a 20-foot gorilla to life on stage—but it's the projections that recreate being on a ship on the ocean that many theatregoers also remember as actor Ann Darrow, director Carl Denham, and the crew sail the SS Wander to Skull Island.
The Little Mermaid
The musical adaptation of the Disney film debuted on Broadway in 2008 with a book by Doug Wright, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater. Sierra Boggess made her Broadway debut as Ariel alongside Titus Burgess as Sebastian and Sherie Rene Scott as Ursula. The show was significantly revamped ahead of the first U.S. tour in 2014 by director Glen Casale, adding new songs, changing the musical number order, and swapping out Heelys for characters flying on wires to mimic swimming. A live-action film is expected to begin production in 2020, starring Halle Bailey.
The Pirate Queen
This musical by two-time Tony- winning French duo Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alan Boublil (Les Misérables, Miss Saigon) starred an up-and-coming Stephanie J. Block as the real 16th-century pirate Grace O’Malley, who was one of the last Irish clan leaders to resist the English conquest of Gaelic Ireland. Co-star Linda Balgord was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her performance as Queen Elizabeth I. The show premiered on Broadway in April 2007 and ran for 85 performances. The show opened in Japan 2009, and was later presented in the U.K. in 2015.
Elaine Stritch starred in this Noël Coward musical as a divorcée who winds up working as a hostess on the British ocean liner Coronia and falls in love with a younger man. The show debuted in 1961 on Broadway and transferred to the West End the following year. A number of staged concerts have been mounted since, including a 1999 one with Stritch reviving the role. Songs like “Sail Away” and “Why Do the Wrong People Travel" have become popular cabaret standards.
Following a Chicago tryout, everyone’s favorite resident of Bikini Bottom made his Broadway debut in 2017. The production earned 12 Tony nominations, including Best Musical and one for its star, Ethan Slater. The set by David Zinn, which brought an under-the-sea town to life on stage (see our gallery below), won the Tony for Scenic Design of a Musical. A slew of pop artists contributed to the score, including Broadway alums Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles, and John Legend.
This Tony-winning musical debuted in 1997, the same year as James Cameron’s Oscar-winning film, but that’s where their similarities end. With a book by Peter Stone and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, the ensemble musical follows passengers (several of them real) of varying classes as their stories intersect on the ship during its fateful voyage. The musical has been revived around the world in recent years, including a Serenbe production that recreated the ship sinking at each performance.
The Unsinkable Molly Brown
This Meredith Willson musical debuted in 1960 on Broadway, earning Tammy Grimes a Tony Award for her performance in the titular role. Following several readings and workshops, a 2014 production by librettist-lyricist Dick Scanlan and the director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall opened with Molly Brown in an RMS Titanic lifeboat. Both the Broadway and revivals follow the life of the wealthy American, from her days growing up in Missouri to her life with husband J.J. Brown in Colorado.
Upcoming Bonus: Moby Dick
Tony winner Rachel Chavkin (Hadestown) will direct this world premiere production adapted from Herman Melville’s novel. Chavkin is again teaming with her Great Comet collaborator Dave Malloy. With music, lyrics and a book by Malloy, excerpts of Moby Dick were staged at the American Museum of Natural History earlier this year ahead of a December 2019 premiere in Cambridge at American Repertory Theater.