The bulk of the musicians’ work here on Cruise Ship X (and most ships) is playing for production shows, those big Vegas-style revues with lots of singing, dancing, lasers, glitter, and other shiny things. (The ship designers are very big on shiny things, very big. Maybe they want that glint the ocean gets when the sun hits it right. Which is why they'll only find cheap imitations) Coming back to the shows after a break, I have two main responses. One is, my God they’re tacky. So glitzy, so surface level, so over the top. You block it out after a while, but right now they leave those of us performing them (very good people, singers, dancers, techs who work they’re ass off, and make it as good as it can be) saying, often, “what the HELL were they thinking, putting this in?” Tonight, in what is otherwise a throwback Hollywood revue (i.e. “Singing in the Rain”, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” kind of stuff) there’s a medley of two really cheesy, over the top 90s power ballads- not quite Journey or Peter Cetera bad, but close- that have no business ever seeing daylight ever again, and are really out of place here. Every time I see it (which is four times a week) I just think, wow this is tacky.
Second thing I was thinking, in both the shows we do (the second is a Broadway revue, ala “Oklahoma”, “Crazy for You”, “Rent” et. al), partially because most of the material is vintage, there is a lot of very saucy material. By that I mean sexual, but in a sly and suggestive way, rather than the in your face pseudo-porn we see today. (There's one spot where the singer, wearing a six-foot high hat/spectacle no less, throws away the line "heating up down south". She understates the delivery and gives just the slightest look. You'll miss it if you're not paying attention, but if you are you melt) In the great traditions of D.H. Lawrence or W.C. Handy, there’s a playfulness to the banter, the jokes dripping with double entendre, and even the stripteases that remind you it’s all in fun. I’m obviously not old enough to remember this stuff when it was the current in pop culture, but I’ve seen enough Groucho Marx, heard enough saucy blues tunes and old radio comedy to know that at one point this was one normal way the culture talked about sex (not universally accepted certainly, but not banned either). Lately we can’t even seem to approach that level of subtlety in talking about sex. Obviously I don’t want to go back to that world, with all its overt sexism, racism, cold war, etc, but I do pine a little bit for a return of the saucy over the smutty, where a couple of throwaway words are a whole lot sexier than a booty-filled rap video, or a techno club.
Current listening- Shirley Horn, “You Won’t Forget Me”, featuring Miles' last studio recording- talk about the pinnacle of subtle, and the opposite of tacky.