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William Ivey Long

Disaster! – Kitsch on Steroids – with Singing


By now you know that Disaster! is a cliché soaked parody of 1970s disaster movies. Familiarity with these will undoubtedly spotlight “in” jokes like a nun parodying Helen Reddy’s character in Airport 1975, but is not necessary for comprehension. Little is. Either you have nostalgic affection for the genre and, equally important, pop and soul music of the era, or you don’t.

Exaggerated songs are actually placed so appropriately, it seems they might’ve been written for this kitschy piece. “Hot Stuff” (The Rolling Stones), for example, manages to apply to women, a geological survey, and what should be coming out of a kitchen serving cold buffet for lack of fire doors.

fishRoger Bart and Kerry Butler

Tony (Roger Bart, disappointingly subdued) is the con man owner of The Barracuda Casino and Dining Discotheque, moored to a city pier to escape gambling restrictions. He’s greased palms, cutting safety corners at every juncture.Think lounge lizard in a blue tux. Tony’s maybe girl, Jackie, a ditsy, shapely, faux Tina Louise, is headlining the club on the off chance he’ll marry her. (Rachel York, whose wide-eyed focus holds nicely-oh, and she can sing.) Her identical twins, the whining Ben and Lisa (both characterless Baylee Littrell) are along for the ride.

Marianne (the reliably fine Kerry Butler), an events reporter for The Times, is on the trail of corruption that built the Barracuda. When she discovers one of the waiters is Chad, a failed puzzle designer she left at the altar in favor of her career, regrets on both sides are obvious. (Adam Pascal,’attractive voice, appropriate camp attitude.) You knew there had to be thwarted romance, right? “I Can’t Live” if livin’ Is without you (Harry Nilsson)

coupleAdam Pascal and Kerry Butler

Shirley (Faith Prince) and her husband Maury (Kevin Chamberlin) wearing some of the most purposefully ghastly outfits you may ever see onstage (Wiliam Ivey Long with a glint in his eye) are out for a night of late-in-marriage fun. The troupers would be well matched if Chamberlin were given more to do. As it is, Prince has two terrific turns. Secretly dying, Shirley’s presumptive symptoms emerge as uncontrollable tics, pelvic tilts, and foul language of which Ms. Prince makes the most. Even with a scarf stuffed in her mouth, she’s funny. Later, leading surviving passengers in a tap dance of Morse Code, she communicates escape information to those trapped below. (Clever idea)

faithKevin Chamberlin, Faith Prince, and Kerry Butler

The axis of this mash-up turns on two pivotal characters. The first, Disaster Expert, Professor Ted Scheider (Seth Rudetsky, clearly having a good time), is a single minded scientist who, having discovered the pier is drilled into a fault line, predicts an imminent “geological event.” Chased around the ship by Tony, the straight man attempts to warn oblivious guests of oncoming cataclysm. At one point, costumed by sympathetic Jackie, he ends up on the stage with her singing backup to “Mocking Bird” in exactly the parroting arrangement by Carly Simon with which we’re familiar.

The second, is the pièce de résistance of the evening, Jennifer Simard as Sister Mary Downy. Worthy of a Tony nomination, Simard, guitar slung across her small frame, breaks up the audience with each and every deadpan remark. It seems the sister “had” a gambling addiction.

While Marianne, Chad and the Professor express what they want with “Feelings”(Morris Albert/Louis “Loulou” Gaste), Downy’s quiet contribution is “Baby needs a new pair of shoes.” When Shirley sees her struggling and asks whether the nun is ok, she remarks “I’m more than ok, I’m bathed in the love of the Lord” without an iota of expression or enthusiasm.

nunJennifer Simard

Simard’s tour de force (and that of Director Jack Plotnick) is a siren dance to the TH220 Slot Machine (about which she knows every intimate detail), missing only the seven veils – it’s hysterical. Every physical and emotional muscle of this thespian finesses comedy with originality and pitch perfect timing.

Needless to say, there’s an earthquake, a capsizing, and a tidal wave. Token characters are wounded, dismembered or die. (Nothing like blood and mayhem to cheer on a contemporary audience.) As women’s clothing diminishes, couples come together. Marianne and Chad will try again. Tony eventually gets his comeuppance. But you knew all this.

Were it not for Lighting by Jeff Croiter, Sound Design by Mark Menard, a whole lotta expensive smoke, and the veteran featured players, you might think you were watching a show cobbled together at a college. Tobin Ost’s Sets are cheap looking; the tank of piranha puppets show a visible arm, rising sea water is fabric held on two sides, sharks clinging to Tony up to his elbows clearly come from Toys R Us, sections of-what? wall? fall from above hung by obvious cables. (Conversely, an outrageous number of large, carnivorous, stuffed rats works wonderfully.)

Director Jack Plotnick gets his tone right but does less well with crowd scenes. Small moments, like Marianne’s flipping her mane before carefully ripping her skirt to bind Chad’s wound, or the Professor’s navigating a beam like Philippe Petit, are often more satisfying than big ones.

Also on board is ex-disco diva Levora Verona (Lacretta Nicole) who never seems to make a place for herself.

The extravagant lampoon is partly awful and partly very funny. If you can get through the first to the second…

Photos by Jeremy Daniel Photography
Opening: Catherine Ricafort, Roger Bart, Baylee Littrell, Seth Rudetsky, Rachel York,Kevin Chamberlin, Olivia Philip

By Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick
Additional Material by Drew Geraci
Directed by Jason Plotnick
Nederlander Theater
208 West 41st Street