BWW Interview: Sixthman Talks the 'Broadway Cruise' with Alan Cumming and Laura Benanti
Since 2001, Sixthman has set the stage for moments that make life rock, serving more than 250,000 guests on unforgettable vacations at sea with their favorite bands and brands. These carefully curated, intimate events bring non-stop performances, artist collaborations and a truly immersive experience that celebrates community and changes expectations of what a vacation should be.
Sixthman took the time to talk with us about their recently announced Broadway cruise! Read about it below!
How did Sixthman decide to plan a Broadway Cruise?
Anthony Diaz: Last year we did a big partnership with a company called EBG based in New York with our Jon Bon Jovi cruise. Our partner in the Jon Bon Jovi project, they're partly owned by The Shubert Organization, and that's where the Broadway comes from. When the Shubert's and EBG saw what Sixthman was capable of, they said, 'Have you ever thought about a Broadway cruise?' We said, 'We certainly have thought about a Broadway cruise, we just haven't had a partner who had the relationships and had access to audiences and really could help us curate it.' So over the last year, we've been building the experience. We just announced it maybe a month ago.
Darby Moeller: It was about looking at what we can provide to Broadway fans that's different than what already exists out there. We put a lot of intention into finding the right kind of partners and artists. We're headlined by Alan Cumming and Laura Benanti, who will each be doing two unique shows on our pool deck stage. We are also getting a lot of different actors to participate in not just concerts, but also activities and meet and greets. We're still curating it, so we're just getting started with what it's going to look like.
How did you go about choosing the talent?
DM: It was a group effort. We're smart enough to know what we don't know. So we looked to our partners at EBG and Shubert, and we spoke to them about the kind of experience we want to provide and asked who were the people that they've worked with or would be interested in something like this. We put together a dream list of A-Lists, for all the different kinds of experiences we wanted from singing, to dancing, and then we found what the Venn Diagram of overlap was, and went and chased down those artists. We've been really fortunate. Alan Cumming was at the top of our list from day one. When we dreamed of this idea, we were like 'What if we could have it hosted by Alan Cumming, to come out and be our MC. That's the dream.' So he was the first person we were able to lock in and I think that's when it really felt real for all of us. We have an amazing talent list right now and we're still adding experiences and working out what the really unique pieces will be on board for everyone. We're going to be rolling that out over the next couple of months.
For Broadway fans who might be curious to know, what will it be like in terms of interacting with the talent?
DM: It's hard to say before we actually do it, however, I'll say this: It's not a convention, people aren't going to be waiting in line waiting to go sit in a room and listen to a panel and then leave that room and go find another room or wait in line for autographs all day. It's going to be more fluid than that because we'll run five or six rooms/stages simultaneously. So something may be happening in our large theater, maybe it's a panel or a makeup lesson, but maybe that's not the most important thing to you, but there's a choreography dance class on the pool deck or there's a real-life "Rocky Horror Picture Show" going on in the other theater on the back of the ship. Our goal will always be to draw the talent out and have them participate in activities so it'll be beyond panels and shows. We are working on doing a competition where guests will submit auditions and then they will be selected into the top 10 and we'll have a panel of judges of talent and they'll sing on the MAIN STAGE in front of the whole ship and crown a winner.
AD: Getting them involved, we found, is what makes these special vacations that people will come back for. They can go see a show in Manhattan, but you can't participate in the show. That's what we're trying to really infuse into this. Darby and the team have done a really cool job with that. Now we're trying to get that word out. We're telling the story that you can participate in this vacation with others who share the passion and these stars. I think people will find that super special.
A cruise like this that allows fans to have these unique interactions and experiences really does make it that much more special.
DM: And that's something that we will work towards - those moments. We'll put together actual autograph meet and greet sessions with most of the talent so that there's almost an organized way where you can go get your things signed, so that you also have that pressures taken off from you and the artist. And maybe later while you're watching the show, they might come up and watch the show with you. They're not going to be mobbed in the same way as they would in other situations. And we've found that that's really where there's a level of respect from. People come aboard our events with the artists and realize we're all on vacation together, including the artists. So what's a cooler story? Getting to go home be like, 'Oh, I casually had dinner next to' versus 'I just got something signed.' That's the experience that is exciting to curate. And always want to get on board, any artist is like 'I won't leave my room' or whatever it is. Once they get on board and they see it, they feel it, they realize what a unique situation it is and how many different places they can go and immerse themselves with their own communities. And you always see them leaning really hard once they get there. It's a really cool thing.
It allows fans and performers to open up more and take in the experience in a different way.
AD: We haven't done the Broadway cruise, but we've done the band KISS's cruise for nine years, and we've seen that the people on that cruise already have Gene Simmons' autograph. So Gene is in their presence, they'll say something like, 'Gene, in '77 when you guys played the Lakeland Civic Center and you used the six-string bass and not the five-string bass, why?' And Gene will talk to you because he wants to have that conversation. He doesn't want selfies, right? Or a signing, because that's a transactional relationship. They'll engage him with questions they want to talk about. And then all of a sudden, they're talking to Gene about that baseline. And they'll go home and say, "I talked to Gene Simmons about that baseline,' and then people come back. So that's what we aim to do on this one as well.
Those special moments are what will make Broadway fans excited to come on board.
DM: We want it to feel really natural and organic for everyone. So rather than just saying, here's the things we want to do, let's place artists in those spaces, right now the team is going back to each of these individual artists and saying, 'Here are five ideas we have that we think might be interesting to you, but what do you want to do? Do you have a project? Do you have something you love? Is there something you've always wanted to ask? And how can we help facilitate that?' That way the artists are more invested in the experience as well as MAKING IT more exciting.
And the idea of not just having performances, but also having classes and other demonstrations enables people to try something new that they might not have before.
DM: There's something really beautiful about the Broadway community, especially in the theater community where you know, everyone belongs, if you want to belong. And something about what's really cool is there is an openness to discovery among theater and art and in that space, so you can introduce a new idea or maybe a show that no one's heard of yet. And people will be excited to discover it and get to either give feedback or have an opinion about it or participate in it early. And I think that's something we really strive for, to help foster that space because I think it's a really unique thing about theater; where people are really excited to celebrate what has happened, celebrate what's happening, but also lift up what's happening in the future to keep it going and whatnot. So I think that's also the pieces we're trying to put together.
Do you hope to continue to have the Broadway Cruise year after year?
AD: The goal is to make this an annual gathering for the fans and an opportunity for the band to have a special engagement with their core fan base on an annual basis. So when we enter into a new idea, if we don't think it can go with a minimum of five years, we shy away from it. Every now and then we'll do a one-off, for other reasons, but it needs to have legs to go. I believe bands have certain arcs. I believe if we get this right, there's no reason why Broadway cruise couldn't go well beyond my days of sailing on a ship. Because it's been around well beyond my time and it can change and morph based on the talent we bring on every year. We absolutely see this going for years to come, which is really cool.
There's so much you can do with it every year, and it must be great to have a partner like Norwegian Cruise Line now to help facilitate it all.
AD: Definitely. In May of 2012, we were acquired by Norwegian Cruise Line. Norwegian has always been a pioneer on entertainment and they were always the pioneer on freestyle cruising. We were chartering ships from them and both sides realized our culture and how we want to super-serve guests align with how they were super-serving guests. Their passion for unique entertainment, way beyond what other cruise lines were doing was always there, and they saw the entertainment we were bringing on, so they acquired us in May of 2012. Since then, they have given us the opportunity to retrofit ships to be perfect for floating festivals. We got power in various venues, there were slides on the pool deck that were taken outside lines. So we have two ships that are fully festival ready. And then a few other ships that worked really well, as well. Our the relationship with Norwegian has been a big part of our story of growth.
The cruises you put on, like the Broadway cruise, also introduce new audiences to what cruising is all about.
AD: Most of our guests in the first year of an event don't even know they're about to cruise. Say they're googling Jon Bon Jovi meet and greet, or Jon Bon Jovi tour, or Jon Bon Jovi shirts, then we Pop up 'set sail, Run Away to Paradise with Jon Bon Jovi,' and then they have the conversation in the household.
'Honey, we can go on vacation with Jon Bon Jovi,' and then they cruise. Nobody's going 'Jon Bon Jovi cruise' the first year, we're introducing people to cruising who may have never cruised. They come on with us. They have an amazing vacation with us. Then they go 'wow, cruising is a really great way to vacation.' And then Norwegian pulls them through to regular sailing.
Your partnership with Norwegian is great, too, because it gives travelers a sense of familiarity when they book your specialty cruises and they're all on the same brand of ships.
We're a very small part of the Norwegian family, but I feel like we're at least a little bit of a differentiator if, if you have brand perceptions of what Carnival is, or what Royal and what Celebrity is. We add one little piece to their entertainment story and sometimes, we're a little company, but with big names.
Find out more about the Broadway Cruise here!