How Disney Is Bringing Broadway Caliber Shows to Its Cruise Ships

Technology built into the theater aboard Disney cruise ship the Wish has given creative teams the ability to produce three Broadway-caliber shows on the ocean.

Rui Rita, lighting designer for the productions “Disney Seas the Adventure,” “Disney the Little Mermaid” and “Disney’s Aladdin — A Musical Spectacular,” says the theater’s advanced LED system helped the crew maximize design potential. “This affords us the highest degree of variety [of] looks possible, allowing deep, lush colors as well as light tints,” notes Rita. “It also allows us to dial in the exact color of light that complements each fabric choice, paint color and makeup tint.”

In a process that Kelly Benton, who produces the three shows, calls “painting with light,” the designs draw attention to specific areas within a production. Citing “The Little Mermaid” as an example, Benton points to “undersea” moments that feature blues and greens that would make the costume colors seem off or create a black light-style effect where they glow distractingly. But the theater’s technology, like a top lighting board on land, can highlight bright costumes, like the ones worn by Ariel’s sisters, giving them a range of hues. “You see these color [light] shafts that accent and bounce off of the set and the costumes,” says Benton.

Building on the standard palette that illuminates production designer Robert Brill’s set-pieces, including a rock, a sandcastle and a treasure chest, the lighting design can transform the objects by suggesting, for instance, a rock bathed in sunlight; projections can help the audience see the same rock as appearing to be under the sea. As the pieces are moved around the set, embedded trackers ensure that the video projections move with them, regardless of where they wind up onstage.

Some of the costumes come with a bit of magic too. To accomplish Ariel’s onstage transition from mermaid to human, designer Christine Burchett Butler created a special tail with a series of hidden snaps and releases for actor Stephanie Zaharis. As Ursula’s minions crisscross the stage around Ariel, they affect the dramatic transition, revealing Zaharis’ legs under a simple skirt.

Benton adds that the trick tail is indiscernible from the original costume. “Nobody would know the difference,” he says

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