Entertainment » Theatre

Disaster!

by Maya Phillips
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Mar 16, 2016
Disaster!

Let me take you back to another time -- a time when pants were flared, hair was feathered or Afro-puffed, all colors were required to be glittery or shimmery or metallic, and disco dancing was practically an Olympic sport, its dips and kicks and gyrations not suited to the weak of heart. And, of course, there was the music, the quick-paced rhythms and belted-out melodies perfectly matched to the ever-rotating lights. For those who want to take a step back into the 1970s, "Disaster!" is a musical to see.

Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick's "Disaster!" just began its run at the Nederlander Theatre, and it's truly a show that revels in its own absurdity. It all begins on a stage flanked by purple columns and lit in purples and reds.

The whole of the show takes place on the Barracuda Casino and Discotheque, where Tony (Roger Bart), the skeevy businessman behind the whole affair, has cut quite a few corners (nothing too serious; just a long list of health and safety precautions) in the name of making a quick fortune.

Meanwhile, his guests on the Barracuda include awkward, dateless waiter Scott (Max Crumm); his friend and fellow waiter Chad (Adam Pascal), who hasn't gotten over his ex-girlfriend, Marianne (Kerry Butler), a New York Times reporter who's investigating the boat; Jackie (Rachel York), a singer who's being taken advantage of by Tony; Ben and Lisa (Baylee Littrell), Jackie's twin son and daughter; broke, washed-up singer Levora (Lacretta Nicole); loving couple Maury (Kevin Chamberlin) and Shirley (Faith Prince); and Sister Mary Downy (Jennifer Simard), a Debbie Downer of a nun with a not-so-secret gambling addiction.

Sounds like a party, right? Too bad Professor Ted Scheider (Rudetsky) shows up to warn everyone that the boat is located above a fault line and any sudden vibrations (say, for example, an impromptu dance number) may trigger an earthquake that would put them in mortal danger.

Yes, the science sounds iffy, but this show has no interest in plausibility. And as for the rest of the plot, well, that too comes secondary to the songs and jokes. "Disaster!" shamelessly strings together its plots and characters with its musical score, or perhaps does just the opposite, taking its little bits of plot and aggressively inserting '70s hits. Either way, "Disaster!" is nothing if not committed to the whole ridiculous spectrum of its elements.

Corny? Campy? Yes, and yes. But it's also hilarious. Don't get me wrong; "Disaster!" is more than happy to grab some cheap laughs; dummies, props, bait-and-catch punchlines -- anything goes. But the humor is also in the acting. Bart takes his character's slimy underhandedness to comedic heights.

Littrell performs a constant back-and-forth gender swap (both in his appearance and vocal performances) as twins Ben and Lisa with ease. Prince plays up Shirley's mysterious affliction, which somehow involves winking, strings of expletives and pelvic thrusts. Finally, Simard steals practically every scene she's in as Sister Mary, delivering each punchline with a focused stare and flat facial expression that is impossible not to laugh at. Simard is also in possession of remarkably sharp comedic timing.

While Simard is a particular joy, it is hard to leave out the other cast members, several of whom are just as spot-on in key comedic moments. The comedic power of the awkward pause, used to full effect by nearly every character, is not to be underestimated in this play.

The music, of course, will be a pleasure for fans of '70s fare, and the vocal talents of the actors do justice to the songs. Some favorites are sure to be Pascal casually belting out Henry Nilsson's "Without You" after his character has a surprise encounter with his ex, Simard's dramatic rendition of Mary MacGregor's "Torn Between Two Lovers" (those lovers being Jesus and a particularly sexy slot machine) and a manic rendering of "Never Can Say Goodbye," as well as the masterful harmonies of "Sky High." On the other hand, however, were some numbers that felt forced and vacant, like "Saturday Night" and the sloppy "Still the One."

But that's just the problem: Though "Disaster!" has plenty of fun, because of the way it shamelessly plugs its jokes and values shock and surprise above all else, the show's lulls can feel a bit hollow and soulless. And the characters, while generally fun, are no more than tropes (undoubtedly parodies of the characters found in 1970s disaster films) and sometimes seem to have little real function in the musical.

But overall, "Disaster!" wants nothing more than to be enjoyed on its own terms, and if that means a big heaping of "Hot Stuff" with a side of disco lights and piranha hand puppets, then so be it. After all, it couldn't turn out any worse than a party on a fault line, right? That'd be a total disaster.

"Disaster!" ends its run on May 8 at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 W. 41th St., New York. For information or tickets, call 877-250-2929 or visit disastermusical.com

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