I took a week off and set sail on Princess Cruise Line's Crown Princess for a cruise to Alaska. Of course, it would be a week without cyberspace or Broadway, or would it?
In the late afternoon with nothing to do before dinner, I strolled around the ship, exploring all the nooks and crannies. I noticed the "Intermezzo" lounge with a gorgeous white grand piano on the stage and bookmarked it for a return visit. An hour later, I'm walking by and hear this voice doing an incredible version of "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables. At first, I couldn't believe it, couldn't believe that anyone but Colm Wilkinson could hit those notes, and second, that I'm hearing it on a cruise ship. However, it didn't end there, for the whole score was done, including a rousing "Master of the House" with just the right bit of cockney.
Who is this guy with that voice and a gift for the piano as well? Well, this I had to find out, but I wasn't approaching him for a few days. I wanted to hear more, and more is what I got, from 1927's Showboat to 1998's Ragtime. This guy can play anything and perform it as well. Each night, crowds gathered to hear his tribute to Broadway. From an evening with Andrew Lloyd Webber to his "Cruisin' Down Broadway" sing-a-long or trivia games getting the audience involved, he's entertaining the crowds with that voice and his charismatic charm. Meet David Crathorne. At the end of the cruise, I asked David to sit down for a chat. I just had to know more about this guy and how he ended up on Crown Princess.
VJ You're from where?
DC South Africa...Capetown.
VJ Do you have family there?
DC I still have a father and a half-sister.
VJ And you keep in touch with them?
DC Just my half-sister. (laughing)
VJ (laughing) How long have you been on cruise ships?
DC I left South Africa in '91, so it's seven years now.
VJ Was it always with Princess?
DC No, I started off with an Italian band, and we worked for Ocean Cruise Lines, which was half American and half Paquet - which was French. And the contract was for three months. They left and I stayed on as cocktail pianist. I never used to sing then in those days. I just played piano.
VJ You didn't sing?
DC I've only been singing for two years.
VJ I find that hard to believe. (both laughing) We'll get into that in a second. Did you have to audition for this job?
DC No. The agent who booked me knew my work from South Africa.
VJ I have this friend by the name of Steve Schachlin who wrote the Off Broadway musical hit, The Last Session, and he told me that when he performed once upon a time on a cruise ship that he had a ball. Are you having a ball?
DC The best time ever. I've never looked back.
VJ Really? Is Princess the best cruise line you've worked for? (laughing)
DC Actually, it really is the best cruise line I've ever worked for. (laughing with me)
VJ Y'know, it's funny... I've heard that from a lot of crew members I've talked to onboard. And they tend to love this company...the money is good, I understand...
DC And I've had the opportunity to...or the, uh... I can do my own thing and experiment my own way, and they've let me do it...like the Broadway sing-a-long. It was my idea and this was the only company that's let me do my own thing basically.
VJ Why Broadway?
DC I've always had an affinity with Broadway since [I was] a child. I don't know where it comes from since my parents weren't musical at all.
VJ Are you aware that you are not just singing the songs? You're doing something more than that. You're performing.
DC You know, when I perform them, the shows that I've seen, I can picture them in my mind as I'm doing it.
VJ Okay. Let's take Les Mis. You did the entire score the other night. You were in character the entire time....
DC Again, I could see the show in my mind...I'm happy because...I'm frustrated in a way because I would love to do a musical. I've never been on stage.
DC Never. I've always played in the orchestra in the pits...I've always wanted to be on stage.
VJ Well, maybe that's what's next.
DC At my age, I doubt it.
(Both howling with laughter)
DC They say Nat King Cole started when he was forty.
VJ Did he?
DC He was a pianist before...
VJ A future for all of us...(laughing)...have you ever been to New York?
DC Yes, many times.
VJ To see shows?
DC See shows...
VJ You've never performed...but after this cruise work who knows what can happen? Look at Steve Schachlin...
DC (smiling) Who knows?
VJ When you're not performing, you know, as we see, there are 1,500 passengers here on the Love Boat. There's also 600 or 700 crew members, so there's a whole other life to this boat?
DC Oh, definitely.
VJ When you're not performing, what are you doing?
DC Well, normally, when I finish at 9, I go to the crew bar, have a couple of drinks...
VJ I heard they had a band last night.
DC The band from the disco came down, and they're very good.
VJ I almost snuck down there. (laughing) So then, there's a whole social life?
DC Oh yes. Everybody meets, you know. All the friends you make on board... when you don't see them during the daytime when everyone is working...you're guaranteed to see them at the crew bar at night and have a good time.
VJ Is there a dining room?
DC Oh yes, but I have passenger status. I can eat in all the restaurants, Cabana, anywhere.
VJ Oh! So, you have freedom of ship?
DC I can eat anyplace except the crew mess. That's the only place I 'm not allowed to eat in...(laughing)...that's weird.
VJ I've seen that you've done all these Broadway things, and you've been doing it for seven years and obviously with this affinity for Broadway. What's the general audience reaction to all this?
DC I find, from young passengers to old passengers, they love Broadway.
DC They really do...
VJ Last night...
DC (picking it up)...this sing-a-long, I didn't expect it to go that well.
VJ Oh, the showroom was packed last night...(DC laughing)...and they were all singing along, and then, of course, you did the Andrew Lloyd Webber tribute...
PASSENGER (woman passing by) I saw your Andrew Lloyd Webber show last night and it was fantastic...
DC (graciously) Thank you.
VJ (howling...DC joins in) There ya go. Unknown passenger, hahahaha. We'll put that in. You see, there is somebody who loved...but you like Andrew Lloyd Webber, obviously...
DC Yes, I've seen all the shows...
VJ Are there any other composers that you like?
DC Rodgers and Hammerstein...the old classics.
VJ Have you written anything yourself?
VJ You mean, not yet...(laughing)
DC (taking the cue and laughing) Not yet.
VJ You have such a marvelous resonance in your voice that I would think that I could only sing like that in the shower.
DC (losing it completely)
VJ But your pitch is just so right on, and you have a great range.
DC It's just something...I've taught singing...I've trained singers back in South Africa...
VJ Oh, you have?
DC But I never sang. I gave them exercises to do...
VJ How could you teach and not do it?
DC I would just play the scales and they would sing the scales
VJ How long have you been playing piano?
DC I started when I was four.
VJ How come you never make a mistake?
DC Oh, I make mistakes, but I cover them up well.
VJ (my turn to lose it...DC joins in) Y'know the other day, you weren't here. I jumped up on that piano. Obviously, they tuned it the next day, so I must have done something wrong. I was playing some crazy song, and I was making mistakes and our friends were laughing and singing along. Tell me more about the singing.
DC The way the singing came about was I was working for this Paquet company... I was in Asia...and the Bridge instructors onboard were a husband and wife team, and there was an opening in the piano bar and I was just singing to myself, not even an open microphone. And they said, "Put the microphone in front of you." I said, "No, don't be stupid." They said, "PUT THE MICROPHONE IN FRONT OF YOU!" I said, "I can't sing with a microphone." Yes, you can, and he put it in front of me and I started to sweat...
VJ Oh gosh...
DC When I heard my voice coming out, I thought, "That's not me." I worked on it. And over the months, and now two years later, I enjoy it so much.
VJ Have you thought of recording a tape or CD?
DC I'm hoping to do one...
VJ And you really should. Passengers would buy it...
DC Hopefully on my next vacation, I'll be looking into it. I've had many passengers ask "Have you any tapes or CD's?"
VJ Two final questions. What's next?
DC I really haven't thought that far ahead. I have a philosophy. I take each day at a time.
VJ It seems like you are having the time of your life.
DC I'm having a ball. I really am. It's the best thing I've ever d one in my life...starting working with cruise ships.
VJ I talk to Susie, everybody here. They love what they're doing. Is that the general atmosphere of everybody working here?
DC Yes. Everybody loves it.
VJ You mean, everybody loves Princess.
DC That's it. (both laughing)
VJ My final question to you is this. Do you mind if I, unofficially appoint you Princess Cruise Lines Ambassador to Broadway?
DC I'd love that. I feel honored.
(howls of laughter from both)
VJ Thanks David. You've been a good sport.
DC My pleasure. Drop by a little later for some Sondheim.
As you can see, David Crathorne not only can sing and play piano very well, but he also has a great sense of humor. I enjoyed David's performing immensely, and he really is Princess Cruise Lines Ambassador to Broadway!
Now, if you'd like to take a virtual trip in cyberspace onboard the Crown Princess, come with me to the land of the glaciers, Alaska.
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