Monday, April 18, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: Disaster!

Star Power Not Enough to Guide This Ship Safely Past a Great White (way)
By Lauren Yarger
There's a Disaster! on Broadway this season.

It's a spoof of all those disaster movies that were popular in the 1970s -- "The Poseidon Adventure," "The Towering Inferno," "Earthquake," "Airport" and the like....  This story (conceived by Drew Geraci and popular Broadway musician Seth Rudestsky, who hosts shows about Broadway on Sirius Radio) takes place aboard the Barracuda, a floating casino cruise ship docked in the Hudson.

An odd assortment of characters (some tributes to roles in the real disaster movies) assemble for the grand opening despite the warnings of Professor Ted Scheider  (Rudetsky), a disaster expert, who warns of something terrible impending. He's right. Many times over. During the course of the evening, among many disasters, there's a tidal wave, an earthquake and even a school of piranha just for good measure among the hardships that must be overcome, all while singing classic tunes from the era that gave us disco.

Steve Marzullo music directs and Joseph Joubert does the arrangements and scoring for a slew of old favorites like "Without You," "I am Woman," Mockingbird" and the like -- all introduced in some corny way in the dialogue. The book is co-written by Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick, who directs.

Talented Roger Bart plays the sleazy, no-good owner of the casino who cuts corners and tries to hide his shady money dealing in other ports, so to speak.  He's the love interest of the ship's singer, Jackie (Rachel York), who hopes he'll be a new dad for her twins, Lisa and Ben (both  played by Baylee Littrel. He throws a wig over his head to make the transition and even manages to sing a duet with himself.)

Also on board are Marianne (Kerri Butler) and the guy she left at the altar to purse a journalism career, Chad (Adam Pascal). Before long, sparks are reigniting. Or is that just the beginning of an inferno?

OK, wait a minute. Did I say Adam Pascal, Kerri Butler, Rachel York and Roger Bart?? Yes, I did. And that's not all the star power amazingly in this ridiculous show. Faith Prince plays Shirley, a Shelley-Winters type "I'll over-exert myself to save everyone" character with Kevin Chamberlin as her loving husband, Maury. Lacretta Nicole is a washed up disco diva (cue "Staying Alive"....) There's also a fairly large ensemble to play various characters and bop and gyrate (with a lot of sweeping hand movements) to JoAnn M. Hunter's awkward choreography.

So if you are a fan of any of those Broadway royals, or if you just really like music from that era, you'll probably enjoy this show (though you will be disappointed that "The Morning After" is no where to be heard and that Lisa sings Michael Jackson's "Ben" while carrying him from the ship instead of "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" which might have made me laugh.

For me, forced humor just isn't my cup of tea. I had seen Disaster!'s Off-Broadway incarnation last season and thought it was fun in the way of silly humor, but it didn't cause me to chortle throughout (though some people did). Give me instead a good parody, or a delicious spoof like Something Rotten! where I laughed all the way through Shakespeare's rock concert in the park while thinking, "This is brilliant."

Taking Disaster! to Broadway seems like stretching the joke too far to me. Not safely protected by the intimate confines of a very small theater downtown and competing with full-scale musicals for $150 a seat, this show can't overcome the natural forces that can sink any ship trying to cruise The Great White Way. Yes, there were some sharks in this show too both on stage and in the seats where audience members at intermission ripped the show apart and declared Disaster! fully worthy of its name. The box office has been sluggishl, proof that not everything that works fairly well Off-Broadway can make the transfer uptown -- even if you have names like Seth Rudetsky and the other very talented stars attached to it.

The best part of this show is Jennifer Simard as Sister Mary Downey, a Debbie Downer of Nun (of course there has to be a guitar-playing nun. . .) who struggles with her past gambling addiction while trying to save souls aboard the floating casino.

"You're going to hell," she tells one sinner in a morose monotone. "Have a nice day."

She  is a hoot -- and the only lead to reprise her role from the Off-Broadway run, for which she received a Drama Desk Award nomination for featured actress in a musical.

Disaster! is scheduled to play a limited run through July 3 at the Nederlander Theatre 208 West 41st St., NYC. Performance times vary. Tickets and information:

Additional credits:
Scenic Design by Tobin Ost, Costume Design by William Ivey Long, Wig and Hair Design Paul Huntley; Make Up Design by Anne Ford-Coates, Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter, Sound Design by Mark Menard.

-- God's name taken in vain
-- Sexually suggestive moves

Full Disclosure: Maggie McDowell, the daughter of a close friend, is making her Broadway debut in the chorus of this production. 

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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. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

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

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

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

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 Episcopal Actors' Guild.

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.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


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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