Last week I was on a Disney cruise ship, plying the waters of the Caribbean in a way that would make Frances Drake green with envy. While we made some of the same stops he did over the course of his swashbuckling career in the 1500s, I dare say our accommodations were better.
Of those, I’m still pondering the onboard entertainment most of all. Around every corner there seemed to be magicians, ventriloquists, comedians and musicians. Of the latter I saw piano players, a saxophonist, guitarists and assorted vocalists. Along with several versions of Disney tunes, I heard almost as many pop nuggets and standards — I passed through one venue in which a pianist was giving a creditable and unironic performance of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”
One thing I didn’t encounter, however, were musical ensembles of even trio size, and this puzzled me. (Often, a pianist and singer would be accompanied by prerecorded drums and bass tracks.) But this was a Disney cruise and I wasn’t exactly the audience at whom the musical offerings were aimed.
And then there were the almost nightly stage productions. I’m not sure I’m ready to label what they offer in this way as “the performing arts,” mostly because I suspect they themselves would eschew such terminology as sounding too elitist, certainly for the lion’s share of the kids. But I don’t know how else I would classify them.
The management enthusiastically used the phrase “Broadway quality productions” to describe the stage shows each night, and while I may quibble with that judgment — although we all know there’s no shortage of Disney-themed shows on Broadway these days — it’s undeniably true that on a Disney cruise you’re in for some reasonably high quality song and dance numbers.
The plot lines of these productions tend to be condensations of Disney movies (I saw a 45-minute “Aladdin” compared to the two-hour-plus version running on Broadway) or original shows that have a simple and uplifting plot, peppered with familiar Disney songs and characters.
What does one take away from such an experience? Is the Disney cruise line a patron of the arts? Not exactly, but there are certainly some artistically talented people giving it their all night and day. Obviously this isn’t art for art’s sake, nor is there anything difficult or inaccessible.
The strongest impression one gets is that this is entertainment, first and foremost. I wound up hoping for the same thing I always hope for every Christmas season when “The Nutcracker” makes the rounds: that people who experience it for the first time decide that a ballet (or in this case a musical stage production) isn’t so bad after all, and consider going to see another one in the future.
The whole experience also gives you a stronger appreciation of how deep the Disney musical catalog is and how many flat-out good songs are in it. You hear Disney music constantly — in the passageways, the restaurants, around the pools, and yes, in the elevators. Jazzy numbers from “101 Dalmatians,” “The Jungle Book” and “The Aristocats” have held up particularly well.
It also demonstrates that live music is something people of all ages respond to and can appreciate as being something different from recorded music. I enjoyed watching kids watch the singers and instrumentalists. Perhaps the key lesson is that children can interact with art, too, and while “The Rite of Spring” may not be the best place to start, it’s worth remembering that a generation of kids heard that piece for the first time watching Disney’s “Fantasia.”