CruiselogoBy Lauren Saslow

Riverview does not typically evoke images of Broadway training facilities. However, Norwegian Cruise Lines is rapidly changing that perception. Norwegian Creative Studios (NCS), the cruise line’s state-of-the-art training facility for the performers, opened its space in Riverview this year to Broadway Theatre Project (BTP or “The Project”). BTP, a not-for-profit organization, offers an intensive performing arts institute each summer that trains high school and college students in the three disciplines of musical theatre: singing, acting and dancing.

For the past 26 years, BTP has recruited talented youth nationwide (and even internationally) for grooming in the performing arts. There are two programs: BTP II for students aged 11-15 (no audition required) and the Summer Institute for performers aged 16-26 (by audition or former participation in BPT II).

Apprentices in the Summer Institute trained in the NCS facility for two weeks, then rehearsed the week of July 25 on Norwegian Cruise Lines’ newest ship, Getaway. On Friday, July 31, the final night of the Caribbean cruise, students performed two shows entitled BTP at Sea in the 800-seat theatre.

Under the guidance of Artistic Directors Debra McWaters and Darren Gibson, The Project attracts teachers who are working professionals in the field, many of whom perform on Broadway, in the New York City Ballet or as backup dancers for celebrity musical artists on tour. Broadway actress and BTP alumna, Mandy Gonzalez, was a guest teacher at the institute this summer. She also performed with students in BTP at Sea.

Gonzalez said, “BTP completely changed my life. I was in a place where everyone else loved theatre and were at the top of their game.”

She claimed every Broadway show she performed in had “at least one BTP alumni.” Gonzalez performed as Nina in the original cast for In the Heights, and as a replacement for Elphaba in Wicked.

Parent Alex Rodee (who lives in Singapore, but visits family in St. Petersburg each summer), has all three of her daughters enrolled in the BTP II for a one-week session. After their first day, Rodee said her daughters all loved the classes.

“They had huge smiles on their faces when I picked them up on Monday afternoon,” Rodee said.

Live auditions for the Summer Institute typically run January through March. Details can be found at www.broadwaytheatreproject.com.