A gift of a four-day cruise on the P&O liner, Pacific Adventure, provided this cruise virgin with the opportunity to sample entertainment at sea.
Being such a short cruise, expectations as to what onboard entertainment might be on offer were not particularly high. Therefore the discovery of fewer than three production shows scheduled over the four nights, along with other entertainment options, was much welcomed.
Faced with this entertainment smorgasbord, a show called Sideshow Alley scheduled for the first night at sea was a no-brainer. Happily ensconced in the cavernous, if oddly named, Marquee theatre, it took only a few minutes to recognise that the show we were enjoying was remarkable.
Not only was its clever concept outstanding, but also its excellent production values and extraordinary choreography being performed with flair and precision by its attractive, talented ensemble cast consisting of four lead singer/dancers and eight specialist dancers portraying a variety of carnival characters, put it in a class of its own.
The choreography and direction, I learned later, was by London based choreographer, Mandy Liddell. It was athletic, inventive and enthusiastically performed by a cast so cleverly ensemble that it was often difficult to distinguish the singers from the dancers because all performed with fastidiously drilled precision with obvious attention to technique, detail and execution.
Imaginative steam-punk style costumes, cleverly designed by Nigel Shaw for lightning- fast changes, allowed the numbers to flow without interruption. Any information necessary was contained in song lyrics, voice-overs or on the brilliantly designed, ever-changing LED screens surrounding the performers.
The song list consisted of a witty mixture of well-known and less familiar songs chosen to fit the concept, sung live to excellent pre-recorded backing tapes. Memorable among them was Bricusse/Newley’s Pure Imagination, David Clayton Thomas’ Spinning Wheel, Johnny Young’s The Real Thing and Jerry Herman’s We Are What We Are – all imaginatively re-arranged to enhance the concept by musical director David Pritchard-Blunt.
Remarkably for this style of show, there was no time-wasting audience participation or padding, just 40 minutes of non-stop, brilliantly concepted and performed entertainment.
For the second night, the show was entitled simply, One. Co-written, directed and choreographed by legendary Australian choreographer, Kelley Abbey, with amazing costumes designed by Paula Ryan, One proved to be a subtle, brilliantly delivered message about climate change, plastics and global warming, all wrapped up in 40 minutes of enticing theatrical razzle dazzle.
Again the same brilliant cast now performing Kelley Abbey’s demanding choreography with style and panache, with a clever selection of mostly familiar songs chosen because their lyrics contained previously unsuspected climate references. Among many highlights in this regard being sassy arrangements of Cole Porter’s Too Darn Hot, Hal David/Burt Bacharach’s What the World Needs Now and Andy Grammar’s Good to Be Alive. A particularly memorable example involved a vocalist, glamorously costumed in waste plastic, interacting with a whale.
Even though there was still one more show scheduled for the final night of the cruise, completely intrigued by the quality of the shows, and frustrated by the lack of on-board information about the creatives and performers involved, your cruise virgin felt impelled to indulge in some research.
This led to the discovery that all three shows had been created by Grayboy Entertainment, a production house created by Graeme Gillies, who also co-wrote both Sideshow Alley and One. Grayboy Entertainment has its headquarters at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast, and specialises in creating original concepts for resorts, casinos and cruise ships in Australia and abroad.
General Manager, Scott Ogier, who also designed the brilliant settings for all three on-board Grayboy shows, organised a meeting for me with Henry Kirk, the Cast Manager, charged with maintaining all three shows, as well as appearing in each as a dancer.
Henry informed me that he, and all the current cast, were recruited through general auditions in London, before coming to Grayboy’s headquarters at Burleigh Heads to learn and rehearse the shows.
In addition to Henry, the current highly skilled performers appearing in these three shows are dancers, Kassandra Barker, Clara Jackson, Georgina Gardner, Ciara Farelly, Charles Wilson, Liam Kelly and Oliver Kirk and lead vocalists are Georgia Brebner, Oliver Lapthorn, Amy Brockway and William O’Donnell.
The final show was Musicology, presented on the last night at sea, and remarkably, even more spectacular than those which went before. Co-written, directed and choreographed by William Forsythe, Musicology was conceived to celebrate the many genres of contemporary popular music including Pop, Disco, Motown, Soul and Rock.
As expected by now, it was performed by the same twelve virtuoso performers who had performed the other shows, but this time augmented by a quartet of musicians who were revealed midway through the show, on a lift containing a pianist playing a grand piano, appeared out of the stage to the accompaniment of a pre-recorded soundtrack of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Again the singers demonstrated their impeccable harmonies and ability to sing in any style, transforming into Aretha Franklin for Natural Woman, Sam Smith for How Will I Know, Prince for Purple Rain, Tina Turner for Proud Mary or, thanks to the magic of LED screens, backed by a huge gospel choir for Ain’t No Mountain, all under the awe-inspiring musical direction of Phillip Filo, who was also responsible for the musical direction of One.
Once more the dancers out-did themselves executing William Forsythe’s dazzling choreography with astonishing care and precision. Nigel Shaw’s eye-popping costumes matched the inventiveness of his costumes for Sideshow Alley, while Scott Ogier’s masterful use of LED screens, lifts and flys, once again left the audience gasping at the effects achieved.
No wonder that the rousing finale, Don’t Stop Me Now involving the whole cast, inspired a standing ovation from the packed theatre. The audience too recognised that they had just enjoyed an entertainment experience which will remain long among their most memorable.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself on a P&O Cruise boasting shows by Grayboy Entertainment, strap yourself in for an exciting experience. They don’t come any better.
Sideshow Alley, One and Musicology were presented by Grayboy Entertainment and viewed on P&O’s Pacific Adventure from 11 – 15 December 2023. For more information about the entertainment on P&O Cruises, visit: www.pocruises.com.au for details.
Images: Musicology and One – courtesy of Grayboy Entertainment
Review: Bill Stephens OAM