Crystal Cruises' new Broadway program is different. It combines entertainment and enrichment.
The partnership with Tony Award-winning producer Kevin McCollum—whose 'In The Heights,' 'Avenue Q' and 'Rent' all bagged best musical—will not only send big names to perform on board, it will deploy cast members and creative experts from top shows for highly interactive, behind-the-scenes programs.
'People are in theater because they like talking to people,' McCollum said. When the Crystal partnership was announced 'You'd be surprised how many people called me' to express their interest in participating.
'Talent can get excited about being associated with a top brand like Crystal and getting to enhance it with enrichment,' he said.
McCollum envisions programs like script development. At the start of the cruise, scriptwriters would give a reading. At the end of the cruise, they'll present the work they've done during the voyage.
He's also thinking of tapping the people who create shows, to explain how they're developed. 'How did "Rent" happen? How did "Avenue Q" happen? ... How "In The Heights" and "Hamilton" are connected. Understanding the bones of these shows.'
For 'Crystal on Broadway,' artists won't just perform but will get engaged in conversations.
'A lot of shows on cruise ships are presentational, and we want to have conversations,' McCollum explained. Just as people go on a Northwest Passage cruise and learn about the history, nature and culture, with 'Crystal on Broadway,' travelers can learn about how shows are created.
Over the years McCollum has been approached many times by cruise lines. He thinks Crystal is the right fit. It has a 'very sophisticated passenger base'—people who are Broadway and West End theater-goers.
The ships' venues are intimate. Performances can be 'something like you could see at the Carlyle in New York,' he said, referring to the landmark hotel whose bar plays host to big stars.
And there's McCollum's long friendship with Keith Cox, who's been vp entertainment at Crystal for nearly a year now after working at lines including Costa and Norwegian. Cox and McCollum have known each other since they attended the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Cox said 'Crystal on Broadway' is expected to get into full swing in August. But, already, singer and actress Rachel York upped the star wattage on Crystal Symphony's just concluded film and theater cruise and is aboard the current sailing to Iceland as a guest performer.
Based on the effusively positive feedback to the film and theater cruise she got when meeting the ship in New York last week, Crystal ceo and president Edie Rodriguez thinks it's one of Crystal's highest rated cruises ever.
'The level of talent was off the charts,' Rodriguez said.
McCollum is currently producing a Broadway version of 'The Devil Wears Prada' that's being adapted into a stage musical by Elton John. His 'The Play That Goes Wrong,' co-produced with J.J. Abrams, just opened in April.
And McCollum's The Booking Group has represented more than 18 Tony Award-winning best musicals and plays since its inception in 1996. The agency sends shows like 'The Book of Mormon,' 'The Producers,' 'Mamma Mia!' and 'Rent' on tour around North America. So there's another connection—touring shows and cruises.
Through Crystal's partnership with McCollum, Cox said: 'I think we're going to get the crème de la crème.'
McCollum said he aspires to surprise and enrich cruisers: 'We want them to have a unique experience. I'm excited to change the [cruise ship entertainment] paradigm.'