This is the first theater piece I've ever written, and it's been one of the most rewarding projects ever.
About the author:
Broadway veteran John Tartaglia's creative impulses have been putting smiles on audiences' faces since he made his show biz debut in Sesame Street. The singer, actor and puppeteer took things even further in the hit musical Avenue Q, picking up a Best Actor Tony Award nomination before developing his own Disney TV show, Johnny and the Sprites. Featured roles in Beauty and the Beast (as Lumiere) and Shrek the Musical (as Pinocchio) followed. Just when this go-getter was finally taking some time off (on a Virgin Islands vacation, to be exact), that creative streak hit again, inspiring Tartaglia to create, write and voice the new off-Broadway black light musical ImaginOcean. In his own words, the multi-talented theater pro explains how a simple vacation turned into to the kid-friendly show now making a splash at New World Stages.
A lot of people ask where the idea for ImaginOcean came from. I can tell you that it was one of those weird moments in life when something just speaks to you and it all works out! I had been asked by my now co-producer, Philip Katz, to create an original musical for kids for Royal Caribbean's soon-to-launch cruise ship, the Oasis of the Seas. At that time we hadn't even dreamed of bringing the show to New World Stages...talk about a journey! All I knew was it had to be family friendly, able to be set up and taken down quickly (always a challenge; sheesh!) and fit into the ship's new children's theater (the only one of its kind ever at sea).
I was on vacation in St. John, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands and quite possibly the most beautiful place on earth, when the idea for the show first came to me. My friends and I were snorkeling, and I was entranced by the underwater ocean life. It was such a beautiful, harmonious and exciting world to observe.
I went home, opened the computer and the story just kind of wrote itself: Three best-friend fish go on an adventure to search for treasure after finding an old treasure map. I knew who Bubbles, Tank and Dorsel (the three fish friends) were right off the bat—writing their dialogue felt really easy and right. Ripple the Seahorse and Leonard the Octopus came a bit later, as well as several other details once I knew their world a bit better. But I always knew that in the end, Bubbles, Tank and Dorsel would discover what was the greatest treasure of all—their amazing journey and what they've learned about themselves and each other as friends.
I spent the latter half of my vacation staring at a computer screen and just writing and writing, unsure how exactly to bring these characters to life. I wanted the audience to truly believe these fish were swimming all over. I started thinking about how vibrant and almost electric the colors of the fish and sea creatures were. That's when the idea for using black light technology came into play.
Black light puppetry has been around a long time, and in places like Prague, for example, black light theater is a true art. Suddenly, the idea of using black light to tell the story meant that these fish and their friends could really swim around the stage, since anything that's not illuminated by ultra-violet light seems to disappear. We'd never see the puppeteers, dressed head to toe in black, which meant we the audience would totally believe we're under the sea.
Once that came through and I decided to add all of the theater interactive effects into the production, I was so excited! When I got back to New York and told Philip and Royal Caribbean what the show would be, everyone immediately understood, and I had the “go ahead.” From then on it was amazing—even with all of the decisions to be made and all the creative work to be done, it was so easy. I was given such wonderful freedom by RCCL to create without limitations, boundaries or anyone watching over me waiting to say “no.” I think that's always where the most rewarding work comes from—when you're given artistic freedom to try new things, whether they fail or soar.
From then on the show came together magically, with everyone from Donna Drake, our director, to William Wade, our composer and lyricist, jumping onboard and following the dream. This is the first theater piece I've ever written. It just kind of happened that way, and it's been one of the most rewarding projects ever. It's been wonderful to write a show about best friends going on a journey together—and getting to do just that in creating this show!