Stephen Schwartz, composer of "Wicked," "Godspell" and "Pippin," sat on a darkened stage, theater lights focused on him and the black Yamaha baby grand piano he was playing.
The three-time Oscar winner was singing a new composition written specifically for Princess Cruise Lines as an enthusiastic audience of Princess employees cheered him on in a rehearsal hall at the line's Santa Clarita base.
An over-the-top employee motivational seminar? Not even close.
The performance set the scene for an announcement that the composer will create four musicals to premiere onboard Princess ships. The line called it a "first-of-its-kind cruise industry partnership" with a major Broadway figure.
The agreement is another salvo in the escalating battle among major cruise lines to win the hearts and wallets of travelers by presenting ever-more-exciting onboard entertainment.
Broadway shows have become standard fare on some cruises. Royal Caribbean upped the ante in 2009 when it began offering full-length productions of musicals such as "Hairspray," "Chicago," "Cats" and "Mamma Mia!"
On Norwegian, passengers can see "Rock of Ages" and "Burn the Floor." "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — the Musical" is scheduled to be staged beginning in October.
But the Princess-Schwartz deal is a bit different; Schwartz will oversee creative development of the four new musicals, including being involved in the casting, production and creation of new shows.
For Schwartz, his personal financial reward is not the motivator.
"Do you know how hard it is to stage a Broadway show these days?" Schwartz asked. "It's very difficult to do theater out in the world. This way I don't have to raise capital.
"Or worry about critics," he added with a laugh.
His first musical in the agreement, "Magic to Do," will premiere this fall on the Crown Princess in the Caribbean and will focus on Schwartz's "lifelong fascination with magic." It will be a revue of some of his biggest Broadway hits and will include a new number written specifically for the production.
Celebrity Cruises also has a slew of new productions in store for its guests. It is adding 18 new shows in 18 months, including aerial, or circus-style productions, Broadway reviews and pop shows, it announced last month.
"We have to be better than our competition," said Becky Thomson Foley, director of entertainment for Celebrity. "We don't just want to offer the best entertainment available on a cruise ship; we want to offer the best entertainment, period."
Meanwhile, when Royal Caribbean's new Anthem of the Seas sails from Southampton, England, later this month, passengers will party to "We Will Rock You," featuring the greatest hits of British rock group Queen.
The concert scene is also the big entertainment news from Carnival Cruise Lines, which is continuing its popular Live Concert Series this year. The program, underway since last year, will feature shipboard performances by Journey, Rascal Flatts, Little Big Town, Smokey Robinson and Styx.
Ten "fun ships" will host concerts. Artists board the ships when they dock in Cozumel, Mexico; Nassau, Grand Bahamas; and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, perform, then leave the ship after the concert.
Is dancing your thing? Holland America Line will continue its "Dancing With the Stars," program. Six theme cruises will feature "Stars" events, including dance lessons, a chance to meet the dancers and a production featuring celebrities and dance pros. Holland America will also introduce five new stage productions this year.
Among other entertainment options this year:
— Crystal Cruises and Oceania Cruises will both feature Billy Joel hits in shipboard productions. Oceania will also feature Elton John music.
— To appeal to families, MSC Cruises is partnering with Lego and Chicco (baby care products). A Lego-themed day will be offered fleet-wide and will include competitions and games. MSC's partnership with Chicco provides free cribs, strollers and baby backpacks for parents with young children.
— Guest lecturers are a highlight on Silversea cruises, which offers a Silver Perspectives Enrichment Programme to help passengers learn more about various cruise destinations.
Cruise Tip of the Week:
If you've given up wearing a watch in favor of using your cellphone to tell time, you may want to take a step backward and wear a watch. There are few clocks aboard ships and you'll probably want to turn your cellphone off to save on data and roaming charges.