Saturday, November 23, 2013

Quick Hit Off-Broadway Theater Review: Disaster! A 70s Disaster Movie Musical

Jennifer Simard and Mary Testsa. Photo: © Jeremy Daniel
Disaster! A 70s Disaster Movie Musical
Written by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick
Original Concept by Seth Rudetsky and Drew Geraci
Music Director and Orchestrations: Larry Pressgrove
Choreographed by Denis Jones
Directed by Jack Plotnick

What's It All About:
It's a send up of those famous disaster movies of the 70s. You've heard of them if you don't remember them: "The Poseidon Adventure," "Airport," "Earthquake," "The Towering Inferno".... with songs from the time period fit into the silly plot about the grand opening of New York's first floating casino and disco. Many, many disasters of many, many kinds threaten the casino and the various characters, played by a large, enthusiastic ensemble. Heading the cast are Broadway vet Mary Testa and Rudetsky, popular afternoon host on SiriusXM's Broadway program, among other credits in the industry both as a performer and as a musician. Plotnick recently joined the cast too when an actor departed and that is who I saw the afternoon I attended. It is a corny, groan-inducing, slapstick kind of funny.

What are the highlights:
Rudetsy's consummate knowledge of songs and lyrics makes for some unexpected and humorous selections among the songs which include "Alone Again Naturally," "Daybreak," "Hot Stuff," "Hooked on a Feeling," "Don't Cry Out Loud," and, of course, "Feelings," among others from the era.

Testa on a stage is a treat any time (and made even more entertaining by the horrendous orange plaid pantsuit designed for her by Brian Hemesath). She had the blue-haired matinee crowd rolling in the aisles as a woman (slightly reminiscent of Shelly Winters' character in the "Poseidon Adventure") who tries to keep her illness and impending death, complete with its Tourette-like outbursts, a secret from her devoted husband, Maury (Tom Rhys Farrell). Young Jonah Vernon charmed the crowd playing both  in-peril twins Lisa and Ben while managing to sing with himself. The real standout here, though, is Jennifer Simard as understated, guitar-playing (think "Airport") Sister Mary, who is a hoot as a conflicted nun trying to bring souls to the Lord while fighting her addiction to the slot machines ("Torn Between Two Lovers....")

What Are the Lowlights:
At two hours and 10 minutes, it's way too long. It's not a direct spoof of the disaster movies (which is kind of disappointing), just an homage to them, so the joke can only go so far before it gets old. The silly plot and minimally designed set by Josh Iacovelli (who also designs the lighting) would lend themselves better to a dinner theater setup like the one hosted across the street at Sophia's Downstairs.

Information:
Disaster! plays at St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 West 46th St., NYC. A previous version of Disaster! played weekly performances at The Triad Theater in NYC from January – March 2012. This production marks the show's Off-Broadway premiere.

Performances: Mondays and Tuesday at 7:30 pm; Wednesdays at 2:30 pm; Fridays at 8 pm. Tickets are $39.50 – $69.50: 212-239-6200(800-447-7400 (outside of NYC); disastermusical.com.

Full disclosure: One of the members of the ensemble is the daughter of a close friend and I have recused myself from commenting on her performance or the role she plays.
--Lauren Yarger

Christians might also want to know:
-- Lord's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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