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'Disaster!' - 1970s Films Put Into Comic Musical Blender

Faith Prince, Kevin Chamberlin, and Kerry Butler in Diaster!
(©Jeremy Daniel Photography)

All of the stereotypical characters and confoundingly contrived relationships found in 1970s movies like Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure, and Airport mix with the pop hits of the era in the new comedy jukebox tuner Disaster!, which opened last night at the Nederlander Theatre. It's a recipe for theatrical cheesiness beyond compare and one that's served up with gusto by a spectacular array of Broadway talent.

Written by Seth Rudetsky (who co-conceived the piece with Drew Geraci) and Jack Plotnick, who also serves as director, Disaster! takes audiences aboard a gargantuan floating casino that's moored in the Hudson River. The vessel's unscrupulous owner (Roger Bart) has cut corners every step of the way in his development process, and because of this, all of the passengers and crew find themselves fighting for their lives, even as they offer up snippets of songs ranging from Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" to Lionel Richie's "Three Times a Lady" to Aretha Franklin's "Respect."

Rudetsky and Plotnick liberally borrow from the archetypes familiar from the schlocky movie genre and hence, Disaster! boasts a guitar-toting nun (played with perfect comic dryness by Jennifer Simard), a has-been disco diva (an underutilized Lacretta Nicole), and a career woman (the always-marvelous Kerry Butler), who has let her newspaper job get in the way of romance.

There's also a couple just-the-other-side-of-middle-age (a hysterical Faith Prince and an appealing Kevin Chamberlin), who are out for a night of fun; a cater-waiter (the still-ironlunged Adam Pascal) who's pining for the reporter; and a ditzy singer (brought to hysterically vapid life by Rachel York), who's trying to be a single mom to opposite-sex tween twins (both played with relish by Baylee Littrell). This woman, too, hopes to get the Barracuda's owner to marry her, but finds that maybe she'd be better off with the rabidly anxious scientist (Rudetsky) who predicts the perils awaiting the ship.

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the genre at hand will anticipate most of what happens to these folks well before it takes place. What's harder to anticipate are the seriously silly ways in which Rudetsky and Plotnick spin them and how they incorporate the songs. Richie's "Lady," for instance, becomes a very, very odd number for a funeral at sea in act two.

Visually, the production also resembles the films that are being spoofed. Tobin Ost's scenic design brims with the sort of chintzy opulence one associates with movies of this ilk, and it does manage to dopily recreate the big moment from Poseidon. Similarly, William Ivey Long's costume designs recall the era's worst fashion moments to comic—yet consistently flattering to the performers—effect.

Lighting designer Jeff Croiter and sound designer Mark Menard both provide able support to the production visually and aurally, and ultimately, Disaster!, thanks to the inestimable talents of the company, has steady enough theatrical sea-legs to provoke roars of laughter for those looking for a goofball night out.

---- Andy Propst

Disaster! plays at the NederlanderTheatre (208 West 41st Street). For more information and tickets, visit: www.disastermusical.com.