Directed by Jack Plotnick
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
As parodies go, Seth Rudetsky’s “Disaster!” is among the best. Eschewing lampooning just one disaster-genre movie, Mr. Rudetsky and Mr. Plotnick successfully spoof several of the catalog of doomsday films of the 1970s that feature the disfigurement, death, and discord that results from some combination of electrical or natural gas disturbances; earthquakes; floods; tsunami; sinking ships; plagues; or infestations. There is even a nod to the volcano disaster films. But no spoilers will be proffered here. Audience members will have to find their own way through the morass of movie mayhem. Suffice it to say that in “Disaster!” floating casino guest Shirley (Mary Testa) chooses tap dancing over swimming to save the day for fellow casino guests and staff.
The musical, on the move from an earlier weekly run at the Triad Theatre, is replete with similar outrageously humorous allusions which keep the audience not only responding with laughter but with anticipation of the next brilliant moment of parody. But it is not parody alone that makes this jukebox musical a success and a candidate for an extended life Off-Broadway for years to come. “Disaster!” has well developed characters with believable conflicts other than their pending demise. These conflicts drive oddly heartwarming (as well as typically outrageous) plots. The musical also sports over thirty-five hits from the 1970s which is “hot stuff” indeed.
The main story line is simple: tycoon Tony (John Treacy Eagan) is anxious to get New York City’s first floating casino open and lucrative. Unfortunately, he has sidestepped as many city inspections as the number of permits he applied for. But not only is his casino unsafe, but also the dock it is moored to has been drilled into a dangerous and unstable fault line. Geologist Ted (Seth Rudetsky) is aware of the impending disaster and attempts to warn the passengers of the danger they are in.
Several sub-plots pepper the musical with interesting conflicts and cleverly crafted characters. Casino waiters Chad (Matt Farcher) and Scott (Robb Sapp) are hoping to find prospective dates among the guests on the boat; however, Chad runs into reporter Marianne (Haven Burton) who is the woman who left him standing at the altar years earlier. A Roman Catholic Sister (Jennifer Simard) does her best to warn entering gamblers they are on the fast-track to Hades but is forced to confront her own recovering gambler demons when she finds a quarter on the floor of the casino. Chanteuse Jackie (Michele Ragusa) is looking for a career comeback and a father for her eleven year old twins Ben and Lisa (Jonah Verdon). Perhaps past her prime disco star Levora (Charity Dawson) attempts to get as much as she can without spending a dime. And outer-borough couple Shirley and Maury (Mary Testa and Tom Riis Farrell) hope to rekindle love’s flame as Shirley’s sentience begins to succumb to cancer.
The cast is rounded out by stock characters played by Saum Eskandani, Sherz Aletaha, and Maggie McDowell. All performances, under Jack Plotnick’s thoughtful direction, are exhilarating and engaging. It is remarkable how connected the audience becomes to characters that, in the hands of less skilled performers, could be nothing more than cartoons.
Highlights among the performances delivered by the distinguished ensemble cast are Sister’s plaintive “The Lord’s Prayer” (Albert Hal Malotte); Chad and Scott’s “Saturday Night” (Bill Martin and Phil Coulter); Marianne’s “Feelings” (Morris Albert and Louis Gaste); and Chad’s ode to Marianne “Three Times a Lady” (Eddie Floyd/Steve Cropper).
The two hours and five minutes of “Disaster!” move by quickly convincing the audience that it is “All Right Now” (Andy Fraser and Paul Rogers) to sit back and enjoy rehearsing the disaster movies of the 1970s and the tops hits of the same remarkable decade.