When a Three-Time Oscar-Winning Composer Puts on a Show on Luxury Cruises

FILIPPO VINARDI/Courtesy of Seabourn

Far from the average onboard piano player, Sir Tim Rice, legendary Oscar-winning lyricist of ‘A Whole New World’ fame, shares the highlights of working on one of the most high-end small vessels in the world: ‘It felt luxurious without being tacky ... the food is almost too good.'

Headlining “An Evening With Sir Tim Rice,” a mix of beloved hits and personal stories, Rice, 74, performs or at times video-hosts aboard the new hyper-luxe 690-foot ship Seabourn Ovation (starting at $4,299 for seven days) with culinary programming by chef Thomas Keller and design by iconic hospitality designer Adam Tihany. All 300 suites offer private verandas, but the 1,292-square-foot Wintergarden Suite, with two verandas, is the plushest (from $30,999 for a 14-day Asia sailing). “His stories and his humor make Sir Tim Rice the ideal guest star. Besides being the most delightful and brilliant collaborator and a dear and treasured friend, he is a fantastic host and toastmaster,” says longtime collaborator Alan Menken, with whom the songwriter won his first of three Oscars (in 1992 for “A Whole New World”). The lyricist’s songs will be in the spotlight this year with the live-action remakes of Aladdin and The Lion King.

I first heard of Seabourn through Duncan Waugh, the West End musical director for The Lion King, who said that if I were ever to consider a cruise, there was only one way to do it. I like stretching myself in different ways, like when I first started working with Disney in 1990, and they hired me to work on a new project called King of the Jungle, an animated film about this lion cub and his wicked uncle, a bit like Hamlet with fur. (At that point there was not much more than one picture of a lion, a one-page story, a director who did not last the course, and a producer, Tom Schumacher, who remains a good friend of mine.) He introduced me to Belinda King, exclusive producer of entertainment for the fleet.

I was briefly worried that I might not like life on the ship. This feeling lasted about 30 seconds. From my first moments, it felt peaceful, friendly, efficient, luxurious without being tacky. For that first launch, we traveled from Singapore to Bali, with fascinating stops in Indonesia on the Java Sea. My second adventure was a magnificent penguin-strewn voyage through Antarctica, plus the Falklands, Chile and Buenos Aires, where I had traveled in the mid-’70s to research Evita, my fourth musical with Andrew Lloyd Webber. At that time I kept a low profile because the theater Jesus Christ Superstar was going to play in was burnt down by right-wing extremists the day before opening night, so I thought when I go down there a year later and say, “A, I wrote Superstar, and B, I’m about to write something on Eva Perón,” I probably wouldn’t make it back to London. But I digress.

One of the things I’ve loved most is the chance to visit new places, notably China, where I had never been, though several of my shows have. I quite like returning to places I’ve been, and getting an original view confirmed or discovering new things about it. I’ve been to places like Venice and Malta and even Corsica before, but you see them with different eyes 10 years later.

In between songs (people want to hear the hits), I ad-lib, with stories from my career, really a collection of mistakes and lucky breaks. In school in Sussex in the ’60s, I wanted to be a pop singer, so I made a demo. I wrote tunes and sent the tape off. Months later, this chap rang up and said, “The voice is really bad, but the song is quite good. Do you know who wrote it?” I said, “I’m the songwriter, and I agree, the guy singing isn’t very good.” My ambition changed in about 20 seconds.

Later, a publisher, Desmond Elliott, suggested I meet Andrew Lloyd Webber, telling me, “He’s going to have to change his name if he wants to make it.” It was 1965, Andrew was 17. He sat at his piano, played me one or two tunes, and I thought, “This guy is going places.” He said, “Would you like to write a musical with me?” I said yes. The first one [of three] we wrote didn’t do anything — about a Victorian philanthropist. But then a schoolmaster friend of Andrew’s asked us to write something for his end of term concert, a bit of a comedown because we had visions of going to the West End and Broadway, and to write something for little kids to do for an audience of bored and reluctant mothers wasn’t quite as glamorous. There was no money, no advance. But at least we wrote Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Onboard, I sing a song that I wrote for Elvis, “It’s Easy for You.” We have a little Elvis interlude. When I was a spotty 15-year-old, Elvis was my hero, and I never dreamt that many years later, the king of rock and roll would sing a song that I wrote. When he was in Vegas, in his jumpsuit era, we met his music publisher, Freddy Bienstock, and he said, "Oh, Elvis’s always looking for good songs.” This was after Elvis had broken up with Priscilla Presley, and I wrote “It’s Easy for You,” about leaving a wife and child for another woman. In 1977 it came out: It was the last track on the last album he recorded before he died. It’s the one song many people haven’t heard, but one I think they enjoy very much in the shows.

The real crowd-pleaser is the Oscar-winning medley of “A Whole New World,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “You Must Love Me.” The last we squeezed into Evita when it was made with Madonna, because you cannot win an Oscar with a song that’s been out before, otherwise people would stick in “Moon River” and win an Oscar every year.

It’s nice to get into the routine of the ship. Off-duty, I enjoy trivia quizzes in The Club, playing cards in the library, having a swim or watching movies. The food is top dollar — almost too good. You occasionally have to say, “I’m just going to have a sandwich today.” A burger and chips are just as perfectly cooked as anything on the menu. I also enjoy the spa, which is in Dr. Andrew Weil’s purview. Most of the guests don’t have a clue who I am, but I’ve not yet had anyone come out and say, “That was terrible, get off the boat.”

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VIP Seas: What’s New on Four Other Luxury Lines

OCEANIA

Foodies flock to Oceania’s culinary-focused ships featuring 2,000-square-foot Owner’s Suites with access to a private Canyon Ranch Spa Terrace and butler service (from $6,499), plus Wellness Tours inspired by Canyon Ranch ashore (think meditation with a monk in Bangkok or an Ayurvedic doctor consult in Mangalore, an annual cruise with master chef Jacques Pépin (next is September 17-29 from Amsterdam to Lisbon) and a cooking school at sea. Provenance is impeccable: beef is dry-aged in Oceania’s own facility, and crustaceans are sourced from their Maine lobster farm. oceaniacruises.com.

LINDBLAD

Known for its onboard thought-leader summits (where special guests have included Leonardo DiCaprio, Glenn Close and Elizabeth Banks), Lindblad partners with National Geographic to visit places like the Galapagos and Svalbard (for polar bears, walruses and Arctic light). Its new 35-day Epic Antarctica itineraries begin at $48,800 on newly built ships, featuring plenty of glass to frame spectacular scenery. Its Galapagos departures feature a farm-to-table culinary program that contributes to the local economy by allowing farmers to harvest specific items to chefs’ specifications. expeditions.com.

SILVERSEA

Draws include full-service butlers tending ocean view suites, with the top pick the spacious Owner’s Suites (from $9,900) and special shore excursions like driving classic ’50s cars in Havana or visiting the remote volcanic Arctic island of Jan Mayen. silversea.com.

VIKING

The likes of Bryan Cranston, Blair Underwood and Phil Rosenthal have sailed on this environmentally friendly, culturally immersive line with designs modeled after Viking Longships. Cultural immersions are a specialty, with resident historians and classical musicians as well as diverse guest lecturers an important part of the journeys. 24-hour room service is included. The Owner’s Suite has its own private ocean view sauna and access to a fine wine collection (from $6,999). vikingcruises.com— K.R.