This wasn’t the first time I’d seen Jennifer Simser perform. It was a few nights into an Alaska sailing aboard Discovery Princess, the newest ship from Princess Cruises. We were among some of the first to experience the debut of Spotlight Bar, the cruise line’s newest production. Conceived by a prominent West End creative team, the narrative journey is a compilation of intersecting stories spread evenly among a diverse cast of accomplished entertainers. In true Princess fashion, each performer seems to be steeped in Broadway talent. It wasn’t until a later performance, Rock Opera, that Simser’s singular star power was on full display.
Rock Opera and the Voice at its Center
The lights in the Princess Theatre begin to dim. A house announcement warns of the use of strobes and pyrotechnics, a promising disclaimer of what’s to come. The curtain rises to the familiar percussive opening of “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin, performed by an eight-piece live orchestra. Rising from the center of the stage, a single bedazzled ballerina is the first in a caravan of performers entering from all directions. It’s a sort of Avant Garde runway show reminiscent of the Met Gala — think glittering asymmetrical dresses, structured industrial suits plated in mirrored armor and men’s leather trench coats outfitted with chiffon skirts. We later learn the looks were conceived by renowned costume designer Jackson Lowell, whose repertoire includes works designed for artists like Katy Perry and Elton John.
Debuting in 2019 aboard Sky Princess, Rock Opera isn’t just a polished performance. Beginning with a group vocal number and transitioning into smaller duets and quartets, it showcases the kind of locked-in eye contact and synchronized harmonies that only exist between seasoned entertainers. As the musical numbers progress, it quickly becomes clear that Simser’s voice is carrying the chorus. A 30-year entertainment veteran, Jennifer Simser has been with Princess Cruises for 12 years now, having performed in a range of different roles.
At times she sounds like Dolly Parton, others she sounds like a bona fide opera singer, which isn’t far from the truth. From a Broadway tour of Fame to Canada’s legendary Stratford Festival, Simser’s impressive musical background shines through her performance. During her rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” the spotlight catches her rhinestone-bedazzled microphone, casting a disco-ball effect of light beams into the air as her powerful voice reverberates through the theater. The audience is transfixed. It’s performers like her that make the cruise line’s entertainment so compelling.
A Culture of Celebrity
After speaking with Jennifer Simser, I found out she isn’t the only performer having brushed elbows in the big leagues. Voted Best Cruise Line for Onboard Entertainment three years running in the Cruise Passenger Reader’s Choice Awards, Princess Cruises productions are full of noteworthy players in showbusiness. The cruise line’s newest production, Spotlight Bar, is directed by Karen Bruce, the same West End choreographer behind the BBC’s So You Think You Can Dance. The Secret Silk, an original Princess production using life-size puppetry from the famed Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, was conceived by three-time Oscar-winning composer Stephen Schwartz of Wicked. There are top headliner comedians that have appeared on Comedy Central, performers from American Idol, magicians with prior Las Vegas residencies, seasoned street performers… the list goes on.
In typical Princess fashion, the daily itinerary includes more entertainment than the average person can fit into even the most ambitious schedule. We quickly learn how important it is to add events to our itinerary within the MedallionClass mobile app to make sure we don’t miss out on performances we want to see.
In addition to live music happening around the ship, we also somehow manage to make it to all of the evening performances in the Princess Theater. Our verdict? Rock Opera was our favorite. More importantly, even after busy days packed with shore excursions and onboard activities, you won’t want to skip out on any of these fantastic performances from standouts like Jennifer Simser and all the other incredible onboard talent.
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