Review: ‘DISASTER!’ at The Nederlander Theatre in NYC

If you’re in the mood for a visit with a shipload of fun loving actors, many of whom you’ve seen and enjoyed in shows like Guys and Dolls (Faith Prince), The Producers (Roger Bart), Rent (Adam Pascal), The Addams Family (Kevin Chamberlin) and the like, then you can have a swell time enjoying this unpretentious collection of bits and pieces of silliness. It was conceived and put together by the multi-talented Seth Rudetsky, the co-writer, music supervisor, song arranger who is also playing  Professor Ted Scheider, who will guide us through the evening of disasters  set to the disco music of the 1970s.

Adam Pascal (Chad) and Kerry Butler (Marianne). Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Adam Pascal (Chad) and Kerry Butler (Marianne). Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

We’ll call this a book musical, though the book is merely a series of song cues which tell us we are on a casino cruise ship which will haplessly hit just about every known catastrophe Mother Nature can hurl at her. On board are a collection of odd but delightful people, all determined to have a jolly time, despite the constant warnings from the Professor that they are about to face an earthquake, a tidal wave, a twirling ship that lands on its head, encounters with sharks and piranhas, but a happy ending for most of them (those who weren’t swallowed, drowned, crowned by a chandelier or otherwise chomped to bits.) Fear not, all of the principal characters whom you have come to know and love in the preceding two hours will somehow be alive and kicking at final curtain.

Jack Plotnick has directed and JoAnn M Hunter has choreographed a cast of 20, and they certainly keep things moving all evening long. It’s worth seeing

Faith Prince tap out in Morse Code an S.O.S. signal, teaching it to a dozen others so we can have a production number. Wandering through it all is Jennifer Sinard as Sister Mary Downey, a devout nun with a secret obsession. Her every line reading, her every movement, her way with a lyric are all original and hilarious.

Adam Pascal remains a most attractive and ardent leading man, and though we can’t get terribly involved with these characters on anything but a superficial level, it’s a joy to hear him belt out a 70’s ballad as he pursues the lovely Kerry Butler with all the fervor he can muster. He and she make that moment work just as though they were playing real people like the couple in Kiss Me, Kate.

I don’t mean to patronize this fun fest, for it’s full of inventive business and clever gimmicks. Its score is bizarre for Broadway, but clearly to those who recognized the tunes, it was a happy return to a happy time. I of course was clueless as I spent most of the 70s falling for my own generation of geniuses; Kander and Ebb, Jerry Herman, Bock and Harnick, Stephen Sondheim — not to mention the previous generation of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loew, Jule Styne, Frank Loesser and all of their peers. But I admit that in this type of frolic the less than brilliant lyrics and the oh so disco music suit the carefree and off-the-wall material to which they are attached. The score is sort of a tackier sibling to that of Mamma, Mia!

Roger Bart, a brave and out there comic actor, plays a hot shot “Tony” with relish, while Kevin Chamberlin and Faith Prince charmingly play a loving couple still in love after a long and well nourished marriage, and Rachel York and Kerry Butler both contribute welcome musical theatre voices as well as pulchritude to the proceedings.

Lacretta Nicole (Levora) and Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Lacretta Nicole (Levora) and Jennifer Simard (Sister Mary Downey). Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Ms. Simard would steal any other show in which she wasn’t surrounded by so many talented people. In any event, she is a standout as Sister Mary, and a delight. The entire company is clearly engaged in giving us a good time, for they certainly seem to be having one themselves.

Endearing Seth Rudetsky, who started the project, delivers every word he wrote loud and clear – in his offstage real life he zips along at an astonishing speed and is often hysterically unintelligible. But here, now that he’s gone “legit,” he takes his time, and delivers the dialog he wrote clearly and well. I won’t say I can’t wait to see his Hamlet, but in this romp of his own devising, he is up there holding his own with the best of them.

The cast of 'Disaster!' Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The cast of ‘Disaster!’ Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Tobin Ost’s scenic designs and the marvelous William Ivey Long’s costumes are all suitably tacky for the good folks who’ve chosen this dopey cruise. I am not going to mention Mark Menard’s sound design because by now I’m certain those of you who follow my writings at all know that I am not a fan of over  amplification. I know I’m out of step with the times in this regard so I’m not going to mention the sound.

In the end, I had a jolly good time watching this stage full of talented folks letting loose and not worrying one bit about the 21st Century craziness going on outside the theatre. They had a less frightening kind of craziness of their own to contend with, and sharing it with them was old-fashioned fun.

Running Time: Two hour and 5 minutes, including an intermission.

Disaster! plays at The Nederlander Theatre – 208 West 41st Street, in New York City. For tickets, go to the box office, call (800) 745-3000, or purchase them online.

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