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BWW Interview: Richard Ambrose Talks Norwegian Cruise Line's Entertainment and Broadway-Caliber Productions

BWW Interview: Richard Ambrose Talks Norwegian Cruise Line's Entertainment and Broadway-Caliber Productions

Richard Ambrose is the Vice President, Entertainment for Norwegian Cruise Lines. He oversees the Entertainment Departments for Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruise Lines. Under Ambrose, Norwegian has emerged as a cruise line with top-notch entertainment, including Broadway-caliber productions.

Norwegian has recently debuted its newest ship, the Encore, which features productions of the musicals Kinky Boots and Choir of Man, which Ambrose facilitated as head of Entertainment.

Ambrose took the time to talk with us about Norwegian, its entertainment offerings, and how he runs his department!

What drew you to Norwegian [Cruise Lines]?

I actually started with another cruise line. I got headhunted out of New York, when I worked in New York on Broadway In 2007, I started with Norwegian. When I was interviewing, I asked, 'What do you want?' and they said 'Broadway' and I told them, 'You can't have Broadway, Broadway's in New York.' But I knew what they wanted. They wanted the talent and I saw at the time we had a lot of work to do. So, I came up with a five-year plan. And the great thing about Norwegian Cruise Line is that when they say something, they back it up. I said I needed five years and I needed to bring everything in house, from a creative and production perspective. So they built Norwegian Creative Studios, which we rehearse out in Tampa. When I came to the cruise industry, I was like, 'Why does it take two to three weeks to mount a 45-minute review?' I used to do seven truck shows and we'd load in in 18 hours. I don't get what's going on here. Basically what it was that they weren't prepared, so Norwegian Creative Studios really prepares them. By the time they're leaving we've done a full dress rehearsal in the Studios. When they come aboard the ship, they do a tech run, they do a dress run and they start opening up. One cast leaves and the other cast comes on. For all intents and purposes, it's a national tour.

Watching it last night, I felt like I was at my local performing arts theater seeing a national tour and not being on a cruise ship. And I was saying before that I've been on cruises in the past where you see productions and it doesn't feel... it feels like a cruise ship production, where this feels so much more.

Thank you, because that's what we are trying to accomplish. I say we are the world's largest regional theater. And the whole premise of how I built the entertainment, and the especially the theatrical operation, is that everything has to be first-class quality production. We want to deliver the talent, but the talent won't come unless we have the production values. Myself and my entire theatrical team, we're all ex-theatrical dancers, so one of the first things I did in regard to getting the talent to come in was the shoes.We literally started with the shoes. We have DeLuca shoes, so it's top of the line. For the production value, just from a costuming perspective, we start from the feet all the way to the top. It's millinery, it's cosmetology, it's the whole kit and caboodle. You are performing in quote-unquote Broadway-quality productions here at Norwegian Cruise Line.

How did you choose what to trim out for the shortened run time for Norwegian Encore's production of Kinky Boots?

We go back to the original writers, the original creatives and they make the cuts for us. We really do trim up so that the audience gets the integrity of what the original production is.

So people who have seen it won't say, 'Oh, they took out that song,' and instead it's, 'Oh, it's just a little bit of the fat has been trimmed off.'

Exactly. It's really important for us because of the environment we work in, we have to make it a one-act production. One of the things when we were doing "Jersey Boys," Des McAnuff was there and was like 'This really works.' We cut a scene here, a scene here and it works, it flows really well.

How do you choose the productions you want to stage on your cruise ships?

Number one is, "do I think my audience will like it?" It has to have a familiarity. They have to be familiar with the music or they have to be familiar with the context of it. And then subsequently I go 'can we do it? Can it be cut?' But at the same time, when I saw "The Choir of Man" in Adelaide, Australia, I was like, 'I'm gonna have this.' "Six the Musical," people don't know "Six," but they're going to know "Six" very soon.

When I heard the announcement about Six heading to Norwegian Crusie Lines, I was shocked because you never see a show on a cruise ship before it comes to Broadway. How did happen?

I saw it in Edinburgh at the Edinburgh Festival. And then subsequently saw it on the West End at Theater Arts. And I was like 'I'm going to get the show.' And then with my relationships within the community, I got introduced to Kenny Waxman, who is the lead producer at the time, and then Andy Barnes. I started talking to the producers and they said, 'Oh, you're one of us' because I'm a theater guy. Then I explained what we do at Norwegian Cruise Line, and how it would be top quality and would maintain the brand standards of their production, so hey took the risk of producing it. We have it on the Norwegian Bliss and we just opened on the Norwegian Breakaway, so we have two productions of "Six: The Musical" prior to Broadway, which is huge. In fact, there's people on Cruise Critic saying they're gonna book because "Six" is on.

I know the Broadway production has American accents for Six, unlike the West End production. What does yours have?

We're British. We are casting out of the UK and Ireland. We're looking at Australia. We have a three production deal, and we have "Six" going on to the Norwegian Epic in November of 2020. We'll be doing six casts a year because it's every six months for a cast. So we'll be doing six casts a year.

It's special that you can see it on your cruises the way it was made in England.

It is. "Six: The Musical" for us is a huge stop for Norwegian Cruise Lines. It says a lot about what Norwegian Cruise Line entertainment is all about. And more importantly, it's that the theatrical community has really embraced what we're doing out here and wants to partner with us. Because when I started 12 and a half years ago, I couldn't even get a returned phone call. And these are my friends, people I worked in New York with. And now producers are calling us, so we are doing something right. And we're extremely proud of what we do.

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