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: disastermusical.com.
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.