By Craig Davis, Craigslegztravels.com
Photos and videos by Fran Davis
The modern cruise ship is packed with entertainment options and venues. That was evident during a week-long autumn excursion on the Norwegian Breakaway, and we enjoyed much of what the ship had to offer.
But one particular nightspot on Deck 8 kept drawing us back. The house band at Syd Norman’s Pour House stood out from everything else on the NCL ship and we couldn’t stay away.
It was immediately apparent this isn’t a typical classic rock cover band. The four-piece band and four singers not only perform all of your favorite hits from the past, they infuse them with new life through showmanship and energy.
We saw them perform four different nights and each show featured different material. They even made us appreciate some tunes we never particularly cared for when they were overplayed on the radio (“Brandy, you’re a fine girl…” ).
People were asking, what’s the name of this group?
As talented as they are, individually and collectively, the band doesn’t have an identity of its own.
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Catch Syd Norman’s on four NCL ships
This is one of several acts assembled by Norwegian Cruise Lines to fit a concept for the Syd Norman’s Pour House venue that debuted when the Breakaway was refurbished in 2018. It was subsequently added to sister ship Getaway, the Escape and NCL’s newest addition to the fleet, Prima.
According to NCL, Syd Norman’s is a tribute to the grandfather of “Rock of Ages” playwright Chris D’Arenso and modeled after legendary rock clubs such as CBGB’s, the Rainbow and the Fillmore.
This is an actual casting call for performers:
“A brand new musical concept from the original creative team of the Broadway musical ‘Rock of Ages,’ Syd Norman’s Pour House takes audiences back to rock’s glory days of the late ’60s, ’70s and ’80s in a hangout inspired by L.A.’s Sunset Strip with an interactive, improv-based experience driven by a rollicking cast and house band. Showcasing a wicked sense of humor and a whole lot of heart, get ready to rock ‘n’ wail!”
That’s exactly what they do at Syd Norman’s. It’s all very theatrical. They don’t merely sing the songs, they perform them, with the four singers in constant motion interacting with one another and the audience as they circulate on and off the stage and throughout the club. The wry — and at times bawdy — humor behind the music sets the presentation apart and promotes the overall sense of fun.
Syd Norman the man, myth, legend
Then there’s the Syd Norman persona. Aside from his visage on the club logo and a photo behind the bar, Syd Norman is an enigma.
He is portrayed as an influential force in the music business, a kingmaker as club owners of that era often were.
Aside from the reference to the playwright’s grandfather you won’t find anything about Syd Norman within the reach of Google.
The singers refer to him frequently, attributing various events or occurrences to “the man, the myth, the legend.” It is presented tongue in cheek and helps create the mystique of a gritty, vintage nightclub on a modern cruise ship.
As singer Steven Johnson said in a glib toast to the memory of Syd, “so Norwegian Cruise Lines, in their infinite quest to monetize all things cool, decided to build a ship around this club.”
Syd Norman’s rocks from ‘Rumours’ to Prom Night
And so the legend grows. The venue is intimate, no-frills and almost always packed. People line up outside an hour before shows and if you arrive late you’re lucky to find a spot to stand. We did that on two occasions and didn’t mind because each show stands on its own.
One show was Prom Night featuring each singer taking a turn telling a humorous tale of the sort of personal high school prom disasters that a lot of folks can relate to.
The week at Syd’s culminated with the band performing the complete Fleetwood Mac “Rumours” album with the singers relating the juicy backstory of all the relationship trauma and behind-the-scenes drama that occurred during the recording of one of rock’s greatest albums.
Debra Hoyland Werner handled all of the Christine McVie vocals with aplomb, and fiery Emma Louise Hoey was right on the mark as Stevie Nicks.
By then we were well acquainted with the talent of the two women and colleagues Steven Johnson and Grant Zavitkovsky. They graciously lingered after the show to greet and pose for photos with audience members.
There are other groups performing similar shows at Syd Norman’s on three other NCL ships. But in our partisan view, none of them could measure up to the band on the Breakaway. They are simply the best classic rock cover band we’ve ever seen.