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Meet the team: the Arlon family

20/07/2017

Deke, Jill and Jamie Arlon have been managing talent and producing shows for decades. As the creators of War Dance – a new Headliners production now playing on board Ventura – they’ve turned their talents to the high seas. Here, we chat with the musically minded family about how it all came to be and the challenges of producing a show for a cruise ship

Jamie, Jill and Deke Arlon

Jamie, Jill and Deke Arlon

Earlier this year, the P&O Cruises in-house production company, Headliners, introduced a new production to its repertoire. War Dance is about two rival dance troupes – one Fred and Ginger fanatics, the other street dancers – both competing for the life-changing opportunity to perform in a top new production by a mysterious producer. It’s an explosion of music and dance, with an exciting twist.

 

The show was created by the P&O Cruises Academy team in conjunction with the Arlons, a family who have spent their lives managing talent and producing shows. Deke Arlon began as a singer and actor in the 1950s, then switched to music publishing and never looked back. His first hit record was Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World and since then he’s sold more than 200 million records, working with stars such as Dennis Waterman, Elaine Paige, Ned Sherrin and Michael Flatley.

 

Together with his wife Jill, a successful television and film writer, as D&J Arlon they have produced hit shows in the West End and on Broadway for more than 40 years. Their current musical, Sunny Afternoon, featuring music by The Kinks, won them four Olivier Awards. For this production, they’re working with their son, Jamie Arlon, who is also a music publisher and theatre producer. Jill and Jamie wrote War Dance together, and Deke and Jamie are the producers.

 

We sat down with them to find out more…

 

Who first had the idea for the show?

Jamie: My mum did a few years ago, but we never really found the right home for it. Then, eventually we came back to it and we found a new way of approaching it, looking at the evolution of dance and showing how the original styles of the 1920s/30s dance scene continue to influence modern, street and hip-hop dance today.

Jill: I love street dance – I watch videos of crews on YouTube with my grandchildren and I think they are phenomenal. So the idea of spinning that in with ballroom was really exciting. No one’s done it. It’s a history of dance encapsulated.

 

How have you had to adapt it to work on a cruise ship?

Jill: We wrote it as a full theatre show, so we’ve had to condense it for Headliners. But, actually, it really concentrates the mind and the energy. The dialogue now is absolutely down to the essentials of what the show is about.

Deke: Musicals are constructed so that in the first half you meet the characters and introduce the problem, and then in the second half you solve the problem. But we’ve got to do all that in 50 minutes, which was challenging for Jill and Jamie. There’s a famous Stephen Sondheim quote: ‘Musicals aren’t written, they’re rewritten.’ And that is absolutely true of this show.

 

How is War Dance different to other Headliners productions?

Jamie: P&O Cruises was looking for a new kind of show, which was more narrative – so there’s more dialogue in this show than any of the others. There are also layers and layers of different kinds of dance involved – formal ballroom, Argentine tango, street dance, breakdance, Lindy Hop, Fosse…

 

Who chose the music for the show?

Deke: Jill chose songs because of their lyrics, which have become part of the dialogue, pushing the story forward. Then I got my friend and long-time collaborator Mike Moran to arrange it. Mike’s a music producer who has worked with the likes of David Bowie, Freddy Mercury and Elaine Paige, among other music legends.

 

What are the challenges of producing a show for a cruise ship?

Deke: Theatrically, there are no challenges. The ships are superbly supplied in terms of lighting, sets and sound – they’re equal to any theatre you’ll find on shore. And it’s all managed by an expert stage crew. The biggest challenge is for the cast. The ships use the same cast for all the shows, so they have to be incredibly versatile. But they’re chiefly dancers and singers, and we’re giving them the fresh challenge of really acting in this show.

 

How are they coping with that?

Deke: For a producer, the trick is to choose the right people to work with. Our brilliant choreographer/director Gary Lloyd (whose West End production Thriller Live is currently on tour) and his assistants Jason and Rose walked the cast through it, and they’re so young and talented that they just absorbed it all. On the first day of rehearsals, we held our own audition to allocate the right parts to the cast, and Jill has worked closely with each of them to make sure they really understand their character’s background. We took a risk, but they’ve come through with flying colours.

 

You had just 10 days to rehearse before the shows began. How did that go?

Deke: In the theatre, we’re used to a minimum of six weeks, so it was intense. But everybody spent more than their eight hours a day, then went home and continued practising. And they came in every day with a smile. They are a tremendous bunch of kids.

Jill: Yes, we’re blown away because we didn’t think we’d get this standard within such a short rehearsal period. When I watched a run-through, I was so entranced watching that I forgot to write notes.

 

War Dance is now playing on board Ventura.

Learn more about the show >

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