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Broadway On The High Seas 3: Starry Nights

Patti, Howard, Norm and Seth… and for an unexpected added bonus– Willie. First-names only. That’s what this cruise was all about, right?

(Photo courtesy of Judy Perl Worldwide Travel.)

(Photo courtesy of Judy Perl Worldwide Travel.)

As if traveling in style and experiencing exotic locations wasn’t enough, we got to rub elbows with– and be entertained by– some of Broadway’s very best talent: Patti LuPone, Howard McGillin, Norm Lewis. and arguably, the hardest working man in show biz, Seth Rudetsky. What a surprise to have Willie Aames as our wonderful cruise director! I certainly don’t want to leave out the brilliant composer and musical director, Joseph Thalken, who was the iciing on the cake. What a line up!

Playbill, under the guidance of President & Publisher, Phil Birsh and Editor in Chief, Blake Ross; with the invaluable assistance of Judy Perl Worldwide Travel created a non-stop, thrill-a-minute dream vacation that we’ll talk about for years. Broadway On The High Seas 3 was a hit!

On top of our daily excursions, we had all the special Playbill entertainment keeping us busy, which is one of the reasons Michael and I barely got four hours sleep a night. But who could sleep!?! We were too busy having fun!

Shortly after we sailed on the first day, Playbill sponsored a Meet and Greet in the Constellation Theater. Of course, everyone was looking around to see if they could spot the Broadway folks. We immediately made some new friends and were busy chatting as they were about to start the welcome and introductions. In walks Patti and her husband, Matt… and they sat right in front of us.

Now, I’m as starstruck as the next person. But, I also believe that ‘stars’ are regular people and deserve respect and privacy just like the rest of us. So even though I’d daydreamed for months about sitting and chatting with Patti for hours in the ship’s lounge (which sadly, didn’t happen)… and even though I could reach out and touch her… I didn’t approach her then. We did run in to her on the deck a few nights later and exchanged greetings and I was satisfied with that. If we were going to talk, I wanted it to happen organically. Besides, I probably would have made a fool out of myself anyway because I would have gushed… and gushed… and well, you get the picture. For me, Patti LuPone is one of Broadway’s greatest treasures and a true artist that completely embodies her craft. I know it’s cliche but it was an honor just to be in the same room with her.

Judy Perl and Blake Ross made this all happen. (Photo courtesy of Judy Perl Worldwide Travel.)

Judy Perl and Blake Ross made this all happen. (Photo courtesy of Judy Perl Worldwide Travel.)

After introductions of the staff and entertainers, everyone went back to socializing and I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Blake (the editor at Playbill), and thank her for allowing high schools to use the Playbill cover for their show programs. (We used it for Joseph this past April.) This got us talking and she introduced us to Phil ( the president of Playbill) and we chatted about the exciting things Playbill is doing to expand its reach. It was really nice making those connections– and I have to say, Blake totally reminds me of Carrie Bradshaw in SITC. She’s adorable.

We also met our travel agent, Judy Perl and her husband and had the chance to thank her in person for setting everything up for us. If you haven’t been following the blog, Judy set up a private tour of Stutthof for us– and then her family joined us on the tour which was really nice. I’m looking forward to working with her great company when we travel in the future.

The second night was Patti LuPone’s big concert. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen her perform, I always marvel at her technique and artistry. She gave us her Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda show — and according to Phil afterwards, the longest concert of any performer on the BOTHS cruises so far. Patti gave us an amazing set of songs from parts she “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” played, with a mix of songs from parts she did play, including Meadowlark and Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. She also sang, I Get A Kick Out of You, seeking out her Anything Goes co-star Howard McGillin and serenading him in the audience. The concert only ended after a standing ovation and three encores. I was so invigorated, I barely slept that night.

IMG_4746Tuesday night, Seth Rudetsky entertained us with his amusing and insightful, Deconstructing Broadway. Seth is an amazingly talented performer, writer and musical director among other things. I’m not sure there’s anything he can’t do. Best of all, he’s an energetic, funny guy that loves all things Broadway.

Among other things, he entertained us with his hilarious comparison of Patti and Madonna’s Eva Perons in Evita. Guess who won?

Seth Rudetsky

Seth Rudetsky

After two days off, with night excursions in Saint Petersburg, Seth was back Friday night, interviewing Broadway’s longest running Phantom, Howard McGillin, for his informal, Chatterbox. There were lots of great stories (including passing onĀ  Into the Woods) and Howard sang, A Man Could Go Quite Mad from his role in the original cast of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Saturday night’s entertainment was supposed to start out with Seth’s Chatterbox, interviewing Norm Lewis, only Norm had to leave the ship a couple days in to the cruise, fly to LA for a shoot on the TV series, Scandal, then fly back to rejoin the cruise– only he missed a connecting flight. So we had the bonus treat of two interviews with Patti. She’s certainly had a roller coaster-ride of a career and has many great stories to share.

Patti LuPone & Howard McGillin reprise their roles, singing, You're the Top, with musical director Joseph Th.

Patti LuPone & Howard McGillin reprise their roles, singing, You’re the Top, with musical director Joseph Thalken. (Photo courtesy of Judy Perl Worldwide Travel.)

After dinner, we were treated to Howard McGillin’s big concert. I really love his voice and could listen to him for hours. One of the highlights of his show was bringing Patti onstage to recreate their number, You’re the Top from Anything Goes. I’d been fortunate enough to see them do it originally on Broadway (twice), so that made it extra special for me. This was the first time they’ve had the opportunity to perform together since. It was a really great concert.

Patti LuPone and Howard McGillin, after Howard's concert. Patti's husband Matt is on the right. (Photo courtesy of Judy Perl Worldwide Travel.)

Patti LuPone and Howard McGillin, after Howard’s concert. Patti’s husband Matt is on the right. (Photo courtesy of Judy Perl Worldwide Travel.)

Sunday, Norm made it back on the ship in the afternoon, shortly before we left Lithuania. With all the travel and jet lag, they scheduled him for a massage and I happened to be in the spa at the same time and got to chat with him. He’s a super nice guy. Late that night, Playbill had scheduled Broadway After Dark, which, after a misguided game of Broadway bingo (I shouted BINGO first Seth!), it luckily became a Chatterbox with Norm. It turns out he grew up about 20 miles from me and is only a couple months younger than I am. He ended the interview by singing, Rain from Once On This Island, which was absolutely incredible!

Seth's Chatterbox with Patti LuPone.

Seth’s Chatterbox with Patti LuPone.

Monday, Seth continued his interview with Patti and we were treated to two more songs. It wasn’t until then that I realized I’d never heard her sing, I Dreamed A Dream, live. She won the Oliver Award in 1985, for her performances in both Les Miserables and The Cradle Will Rock. Patti brings such depth to the song. She also wowed us with Buenos Aires from Evita.

Patti LuPone singing Buenos Aires.

Patti LuPone singing Buenos Aires.

With Norm Lewis.

With Norm Lewis.

After dinner, everyone was blown away by Norm Lewis in concert. What a voice and a great showman! It was the perfect way to end the Playbill portion of the cruise. We’d just seen Norm on Broadway recently in Porgy and Bess and he’s simply phenomenal.

Toward the end of his concert, our cruise director, Willie Aames, joined Norm on stage for a duet and the crowd went wild.

Norm Lewis in concert. (Photo courtesy of Judy Perl Worldwide Travel.)

Norm Lewis in concert. (Photo courtesy of Judy Perl Worldwide Travel.)

Michael and Willie Aames.

Michael and Willie Aames.

After Norm’s concert, we celebrated the end of the cruise with one last toast. Michael and I got to chat with Willie briefly and thank him for making our stay of the Regent Seven Seas Voyager so memorable.

We actually still had one full day in Germany ahead but because our luggage had to be packed and outside our room that final night; the Playbill events ended a night earlier. This way, everyone got to dress up and there was no rush after the evenings festivities to get packed.

I forgot to mention that when we first got to our rooms, we had swag waiting for us. We received canvas Playbill bags that among other things, included a special edition print, especially for BOTHS3 that we were able to have signed by all the performers. I thought it was really a nice touch.

Playbill did an excellent job planning out this adventure. They kept us going non-stop for ten days, yet we were never rushed and still managed to have a little free time. Patti, Norm, Howard and Seth were frequently out and about, went on some of the tours and were often accessible.

I also really appreciated that we got daily updates of the Broadway events delivered to our room so we wouldn’t miss anything.

Michael getting our limited edition prints signed.

Michael getting our limited edition prints signed.

Unfortunately, Michael and I won’t be able to go on the BOTHS4 (Tahiti) but 5 and 6 are already in the works and we’re making plans.

Broadway On the High Seas is the perfect way to see the world and get a more intimate Broadway experience all rolled into one vacation.

WARNING: It’s habit-forming.

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Baltic Cruise Day Two: Turku, Finland

I never in my life thought I’d visit Finland. I’d never heard of Turku before the cruise, so I had no real expectations. Exploring the unknown is always a real adventure.

At every port we had multiple excursions to choose from and Michael and I booked all of ours online months before the cruise to take advantage of the best options. We learned later that as tours filled up, often new ones were opened. For the most part, we got our first choices at each port.

Turku Castle

Turku Castle

Turku is the oldest city in Finland, believed to be founded towards the end of the thirteenth century. An important

Finnish city, it is probably best know as an important seaport for commercial and passenger ships.

Of the available tours, we chose “Turku Castle, Naantali & Ruissalo” giving us the opportunity to experience three different communities in Finland. There was also the opportunity to explore Turku on your own– but as first time visitors we thought we’d get the most from an organized excursion.

The Inner Courtyard at Turku Castle.

The Inner Courtyard at Turku Castle.

Let me say here, as a rule, I’m not a big fan of tours. I would prefer to move along at my own pace, taking more time in areas of interest, skipping through others and stopping for photos along the way. When you’re on a bus with a tight itinerary, or even on foot, it can get a little frustrating. I took very few photos on the buses because they just don’t turn out well. At every port we passed many areas I would have liked to explore. Throughout our trip though, we felt it was the best introduction to foreign countries. We now have a better idea of what countries and towns we’d like to return to for a longer visit. I’d also like to add, with one exception, all of our local tour guides were really great at what they do.

Medieval Art at Turku Castle.

Medieval Art at Turku Castle.

Our first stop was Turku Castle. Building of the medieval castle began around the year 1280 and then it was later expanded during the 16th century. Extremely well preserved, it is the most prominent symbol of Turku and a popular tourist destination.

I found great beauty in the massive structure and was particular fond of the inner courtyard and the surviving medieval paintings that adorned the inner walls. The large chapel also displayed some interesting and unique artifacts.

Inside Turku Castle.

Inside Turku Castle.

The main street in Naantali, Finland.

The main street in Naantali, Finland.

Our second stop was the city of Naantali. It is considered an important summer tourist destination in Finland. The year-round population is less than 20,000 but increases substantially during the summer months.

One thing I learned, that seemed to be a common theme in most of the countries we visited, is that unlike families in the United States, most families in these countries have some sort of a vacation home for relaxation in the warm summer months . In the US it is more the exception than the norm.

Naantali Church.

Naantali Church.

We had free time to wander around Naantali Old Town and harbor on our own. Though it was bustling with the activities of tourists and and summer residents, we enjoyed the peaceful, relaxing atmosphere it had to offer.

We wandered off the main street, down alleyways and through some of the residential paths lined with small cottages. Attracted by a bell tower, ended up spending the most time on the grounds of the medieval Naantali church and cemetery. It was all so quiet and serene. A nice contrast to the more densely populated city of Turku, giving us a broader glimpse of Finnish life.

The cemetery at Naantali Church.

The cemetery at Naantali Church.

Naantali Harbor

Naantali Harbor

The barn of a secluded home on the island of Ruissalo.

Our final stop of the day was the island of Ruissalo, in the Archipelago Sea, southwest of the city of Turku. Ruissalo has a very small population of just a few hundred residents and is best known for their annual Ruisrock music festival.

We walked along the water, down a path past quaint, secluded homes and enjoyed the warm sunny afternoon and fresh air before returning to the ship for dinner, followed by Patti LuPone’s highly-anticipated concert.

A sailboat at the island of Ruissalo.

A sailboat at the island of Ruissalo.