Cuba, the hottest cruise destination of the last year, has now become the hottest theme in cruise ship entertainment.
The island’s recent opening to U.S. tourism is inspiring show producers and casting directors at several of the Miami-based cruise lines, and production teams are using it as a springboard to explore Cuban culture and stress the authenticity of the music, costuming and overall approach.
Each of the three contemporary cruise brands in South Florida either has a Cuba-
themed show on its ships or has one in development.
Royal Caribbean International’s “Bailamos” is already being staged on the Empress of the Seas as that ship sails from Tampa on itineraries that include Havana. Carnival Cruise Line is shifting a production of its “Amor Cubano” show to the Carnival Paradise when it begins Cuba sailings in June.
Norwegian Cruise Line, meanwhile, is preparing an ambitious show developed by Tony Award-winning choreographer Warren Carlyle for the debut of its next ship, the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Bliss, in 2018.
It was perhaps telling that when Carnival held an open house for its new 45,000-square-foot entertainment rehearsal hall, Carnival Studios, in Davie, Fla., earlier this month, the show it chose to highlight was “Amor Cubano.”
The show is a blend of Spanish and English language songs, sung and danced by a cast of 12 and backed by a four-piece Cuban band. It is performed against a backdrop of scenes from Cuba projected on a 480-square-foot LED screen.
Kerry Stables, director of creative development in Carnival’s entertainment department, said the show was proposed in 2015 by Peter Flynn, a Broadway director who had done five shows previously with Carnival’s creative team.
Stables said Carnival chose the show because it only had one other Latin show in its repertoire, which was a “Latin pop crossover style.”
In contrast, “Amor Cubano” is authentic enough that audience members born on the island have cried during some of the numbers, said Sarah Beth Reno, Carnival’s entertainment vice president.
The show, which debuted on the Carnival Vista, was added to the Carnival Glory in the fall of 2016 and will open on the Carnival Paradise next month.
“Once the announcement was made about the Paradise going to Cuba, it was a given that we should add the show to that ship, as well, to truly expand the guests’ experience while enjoying Cuba first hand,” Stables said.
Royal Caribbean’s cruise to Cuba aboard the Empress of the Seas features two shows that have elements of Cuban entertainment. The first, “Bailamos,” which means “let’s dance” in Spanish, showcases Latin music in a broad range of styles, from nostalgic Hollywood to new musicals on Broadway.
Empress of the Seas
The second, called “Three,” is a tribute to showgirls of yesterday, today and tomorrow. The costuming, with its towering feather headdresses, is reminiscent of those that tourists in Havana can see if they visit the legendary Tropicana Cabaret for its two-hour outdoor extravaganza.
At Norwegian Cruise Line, the entertainment team has been working for nine months on an original musical.
“It’s basically going to be a celebration of Cuban culture and Cuban music,” said Richard Ambrose, Norwegian’s vice president of entertainment. “It’s also going to be [cast with] Cuban or Cuban-American artists. So it’s really going to be an authentic feel, under the helm of Broadway’s best.”
Ambrose said the costuming will be done by New York-based Cuban-American fashion designer Isabel Toledo, while the art direction and scenic design will go to her husband, artist Ruben Toledo.
The show is targeted for the Norwegian Bliss, which debuts in June 2018 in Seattle with “Jersey Boys” as its lead show. Ambrose said the Cuban production will be equally exciting but in a different vein.
“We think this is going to blow the roof off entertainment, not only at sea but everywhere in the world,” he said.