But at dinner that first night, Eileen became glum as she chatted about her and Manuel’s favorite cruises together. She was feeling his absence. “Everyone says cherish the memories,” she said as she picked at her fettuccine Alfredo. “I don’t want the memories. I want the man.” We changed the subject and reminisced instead about our first Broadway musicals. (Eileen’s: Damn Yankees; mine: The Magic Show; Ronnie’s: A Chorus Line; Julie’s: Cats.) Eileen wanted to turn in after dinner, but eventually we convinced her to join us for Randy Rainbow’s first show.
Eileen had never heard of Rainbow, a YouTube-turned-stage performer beloved for his satiric reworkings of Broadway standards. But when he took the stage, draped in pink taffeta, she lit up. She smiled when he burst into “Those Were The Good Old Days,” from Damn Yankees, and chuckled at the Mary Poppins-esque “A Spoonful of Clorox,” a redress of absurd treatments for COVID-19.
“He’s incredible!” Eileen raved as we left the theater. What was incredible, I thought, was that we, Eileen included, were able to laugh—hard.
With Eileen’s demeanor improved, I hoped for smooth sailing for the rest of the trip. But things got rocky around Cape Hatteras, off the coast of North Carolina. The ship reeled, bucked by high winds and rough waters. Performance schedules had to be shifted. Eileen never gets seasick, but Julie and I felt completely unmoored—so the mother in her stepped in to ease our discomfort. “Let’s move to the middle of the ship,” she suggested, knowing that it would feel less tumultuous at the fulcrum. “And bring the dominoes,” she said, nodding to Puerto Rico’s national pastime, which we’d often played together over the years. “It will take your mind off seasickness.” It worked, and we duked it out until dinner. Manuel never played dominoes, I remembered, and it was nice to see Eileen delight in one of the few things she enjoyed without him.
A collective relief settled on the ship the next morning as the seas calmed and we docked in Bermuda. We spent the day ashore, exploring, before heading back to the ship for Kristin Chenoweth’s much-anticipated performance. Her moving renditions of songs like, “You Are Always On My Mind” and “The Way We Were” brought Eileen memories, and tears. She left. After the show, Julie found her in the cabin, asleep, as Randy Rainbow looped on the TV.A beachside lunch was the highlight of our second day at port. But as much as I wished to linger ashore, I was more eager to get back for Laura Benanti’s performance—my original inspiration for booking the cruise. Up on the pool deck, she sang everything from a “My Fair Lady” medley to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” But at the end, Benanti suddenly choked up, announcing that she wouldn’t be able to perform her second show the following day due to a medical emergency. With profound apologies, she exited the stage, and disembarked before we sailed away from Bermuda.