Jupina Amour

(6:45 p.m. GMT) -- Marella Cruises hasn't always been synonymous with cutting-edge technology, but that could change with the launch of its latest ship, Marella Explorer.

Debuting in late spring as Marella's largest vessel following an extensive refurbishment, the 1,924-passenger reincarnation of what was formerly TUI's Mein Schiff 1 will feature 13 new onboard shows. Many of them incorporate impressive technological elements, including a giant LED screen, cameras that can cut away to other parts of the ship, participatory apps that allow voting and detective sleuthing for the new repertoire's two family-friendly productions, and even scents that will be piped into the theatre to create a 4D experience.

In an exclusive behind-the-scenes sneak peek, Cruise Critic caught up with Steve Leatham, creative director for The Entertainment Group (ted), which is overseeing the shows' creation and implementation, to chat about what goes into bringing a new show to life.

"Everything starts with massive, broad knowledge," Leatham said, noting that, while he has worked on shows and casting for other cruise lines, this is the first time ted is responsible for overseeing a ship's entertainment in its entirety.

From storyboard pitches and costume prototypes to casting each role, Leatham says the key to success is simple: "It's knowing what works and what's big."

Here's a rundown of what you can expect from each new production:

Cogs: Billed by Leatham as the most ambitious show, "Cogs" features steampunk scenery and costumes backed by orchestral versions of songs from Metallica, Pink Floyd and David Bowie in what has been referred to as an adult fairytale.

Rockology: This show is "Rock of Ages" meets your favourite rock concert, featuring over-the-top costumes, live guitar and drums, and songs from the likes of Meatloaf and Fleetwood Mac, among others.

Bud's Diner: Think diners, cars and roller skates for this one, which features 1950s songs, such as "Johnny B. Goode."

Vocalites: During this more relaxing performance, eight singers sit on stools in front of the audience, where they'll perform a live warm-up and showcase various vocal styles.

Pop Icons: This legends sow will feature songs by some of the best pop icons of all time: Madonna, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Elvis, Prince and others.

Variety: If you like the "Sunday Night at the Palladium" vibe, you'll love this show, which we're told will have everything from singing, dancing and comedy to magic and special effects like neon and black lighting.

Soul: Passengers are encouraged to dress to impress for this faux awards show, which highlights classic and contemporary soul artists like The Four Tops and Rag and Bone Man. Known as the 43rd Marella Soul Awards, this offering will feature finalists. When the predetermined winner is announced, one of his or her songs will be performed by the cast.

Musicals: The most traditional of the new performances, Musicals focuses on West End and Broadway hits.

Movies: Focusing on hit songs from movies, this one features favourites from titles like "Back to the Future," "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Jaws." Be warned: Scents will be piped in to make the theatre smell just like popcorn.

Festival: From Woodstock all the way through to Glastonbury, music festivals are the theme for this show, showcasing the work of performers like Jimi Hendrix and Coldplay. Get your noses ready: For this one, the theatre will smell like cut grass.

Zuma: The only show where the dancers get all the glory, Zuma features Latin dance. Following a performance with tons of costume changes, dancers will join passengers in the ship's Indigo nightclub area for an after party.

Sing-Song: The first of two more family-friendly shows, Sing-Song is just what it sounds like -- an act where passengers will be encouraged to sing along with the lyrics. Audience members can then "vote" for winners using their (or their parents') mobile phones.

CSI: The second kid-friendly offering, CSI -- which stands for Cruise Ship Investigation -- will consist of three 15-minute standalone detective investigations each week, prior to the main theatre show. Children can use their parents' mobiles to solve the mysteries.

"The goal was to challenge the barriers without alienating traditional cruisers," Leatham said, adding that although 13 shows is a lot, it will allow the cruise director to adapt what's shown seasonally to account for different audiences.  

"[During times when there are more kids onboard], we'll be able to take some of the more traditional-based content out and put some of the younger, more technology-based content in," Leatham explained.

The large number of productions will also ensure that there are no repeats for passengers sailing on the ship's two-week itineraries.

Casting for the shows was no easy feat, according to Leatham. A group of 12 -- four singers, four dancers and four singer/dancers -- was chosen from more than 500 who auditioned. Following safety training, which all crewmembers must undergo, the all-UK cast will rehearse for three months before setting foot onboard to begin their nine-month contract. In those three months, they will have to master dozens of songs and dance routines, as well as hundreds of costume changes.

Apart from performing in each night's main show, you'll also find them throughout the ship, singing in lounges and teaching dance classes.

Adding to the technology that will be used in the new shows, ted has special-ordered a DJ emulator -- a podium-type stand with an interactive screen that will replace traditional equipment for the ship's DJ. The device will be found in Explorer's Indigo nightclub -- a bar, nightclub and casino concept -- where it will be used to play music, add sound effects and even project music videos to add to the club's ambiance.

Further, the emulator will be used for DJ classes, designed to teach hard-to-please teen cruisers how to mix their own tracks.

Although the emulators are found on many North American-based ships, Marella is currently the only UK cruise line to have one. (The only other one in all of the UK can be found at Marco Pierre White's Steakhouse Bar & Grill in Birmingham.)

Set to launch in May, the ship will boast 10 restaurants (including two first-in-fleet venues serving sushi, pizza and tapas), family balcony cabins, an adults-only sun deck and a partnership with upscale spa brand Champneys.

--By Ashley Kosciolek, Editor