After four or five standing ovations and encores, it began to dawn on us that our passengers were shocked by our entertainment program. We’d hoped what we’d drawn up was good, but at the start of the first concert aboard our Russia river cruise ship, the entertainment salon that could hold all 180 passengers was less than half full. In that we only have one dinner seating, we couldn’t blame the sparse crowd on the dining room.
I asked a passenger just entering if restaurant problems had slowed people from coming. This gentleman offhandedly remarked, “Naw. It’s just another ship entertainment program no doubt. Seen dozens of them and they aren’t worth running up here. But something to kill time.”
“But this is our first one of the cruise season. You haven’t seen our show.”
“Sure. Nothing ever changes. All cruises are about the same,” he said as he entered the salon to find his wife.
Then the program began. One of Russia’s premiere troubadours, Dmetri Schved, dressed in full tsarist military regalia, hit the opening chord. What followed was an intensely romantic rendition of a famous Russian serenade. He followed that with a stirring rendition of Kallinka and had the audience clapping and singing with him. Alexander Barrasoski stepped into the spotlight with our mistress of ceremonies, the famous Galena Gonsherova, accompanying the world famous tenor from the Bolshoi Theatre. The audience was stunned. By now the hall was full with standing room only.
Alexander traded off with Natasha, a stunning coloratura soprano gracing the highest of notes to perfection. They sang some together and were joined by a great baritone, Vasily Karkoshov – all in the amazing tuxedos and gowns they wowed people with at the Bolshoi Theater. They were on our ship by invitation because in the summer the Bolshoi is dark.
For a change of pace, master of the flute, balalaika, guitar and violin, Igor Vasiliev played a “fantasy” followed by duets with our troubadour, Dmetri Schved.
The mixture of the greatest arias and the most romantic and engaging Russian folk music had the audience repeatedly on their feet with applause of admiration.
We’d planned for a one-hour show, unsure of how our passengers would react to such a concert. We’ve been on enough Viking, Royal Caribbean, Windstar and other cruises to know we had something completely different. No lounge acts. No smarmy garish dressed singer feigning fake jazz and popular American music. No. Our show was top-drawer, best of the best of Russian music…some of the greatest music in the world.
But at the end of the hour, as our ensemble bowed to a standing ovation, the cries of “Encore, encore” rang out. We obliged. And obliged and obliged. For a full half hour. At that point we stepped to the microphone and thanked our guests. We then announced the entertainers needed sleep but they’d be back each night we were cruising with a whole new show. The passengers cheered. And we asked, “Normally shows are one hour. We don’t want to bore or tire our passengers. But it is up to you. One hour or one and a half hours?” The shouts of two hours dominated, but we let them know we had to stop after one and a half hour.
And we did just that. Every night. Great music. Unforgettable performances. Inspiring music and professionalism that one would have to pay $100 or more for a ticket. All included in our program.
The next night, the dining room quickly cleared. When I went up to the entertainment salon a half hour before the show, it was packed. That told me all I needed.
To add to the ship board entertainment we began the cruise departure with a large Red Army brass band playing farewell songs as our passengers lined the deck. In another port, a group of women who had lost their husbands at the battle of Stalingrad, sang just before dinner. Not a dry eye in the restaurant. During lunch, Igor Vasilieve played background classics and again at dinner.
We even had a folk dance troupe come aboard and stage a great open deck performance of energetic and amazing Russian folks dances as only Russian kick dancers can do.
We have insisted that our performers provide our passengers with a chance to buy their CDs and the performers are shocked when we refuse to take any commissions. We want our passengers to take their performances home and relive some great entertainment, over and over. Then tell their friends to join us on a cruise.