By: Paulanne Simmons
The best thing about Disaster!, is that this new Broadway musical has enough comic genius not to occasion a whole slew of quips based on its title. The book by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick satirizes the many disaster movies that were box office hits during the 1970s. The show also features songs of the same era that are cleverly inserted into the script à la the typical juke box musical: ‘”Hot Stuff,” ‘Knock Three Times,” “Knock on Wood,” ”Hooked On a Feeling,” “I Will Survive,” “I Am Woman.”
Faith Prince, Kevin Chamberlin and Kerry Butler
Disaster! features a cast of characters who are aboard the floating casino, Barracuda, anchored at a New York pier when an earthquake and then a tsunami hit the city. That we have met these characters before makes them no less funny.
Jennifer Simard is a guitar-toting nun with a gambling addiction. Faith Prince is Shirley, a secretly ailing but robust Jewish wife, whose symptoms include involuntary eye winking, hip thrusts and loud outbursts of obscenities. She has a tender heart and a loving husband, Maury (Kevin Chamberlin), who can really dance, despite his hernia.
Rachel York is Jackie, the club’s sexy headliner and a loving mother to her children, Ben and Lisa, both awesomely played by by Baylee Littrell. Lacretta Nicole is Levora, a disco queen who’s seen better days but clings steadfastly to her pet dog. Seth Rudetsky plays the Cassandra-like Professor Ted Scheider, who can no more convince Tony (Roger Bart), the unscrupulous ship owner, to take the proper precautions than Jackie can convince Tony to lead her down the the aisle.
And this is just a taste.
Simard is particularly hilarious as she grapples with her guilt over gambling away all the money for the children’s orphanage. And Prince’s struggle to control Shirley’s urge for vile language is equally side-splitting. Littrell, doing double duty, is a young star we should all keep our eyes on.
In the first act, Disaster! firmly establishes these characters with all their ticks. In the second act, after disaster strikes, we see them hilariously battling to survive a sinking ship, falling debris, sharks and their own folly.
Special kudos go to set designer Tobin Ost and costume designer William Ivey Long, who give the show a Las Vegas feel transported to New York; dance arranger JoAnn M. Hunter for the tap dance number in which Prince leads the entire cast in this very original way of delivering Morse Code instructions to those trapped below; and Plotnick, whose direction loses no opportunity to keep the gags coming.
Certainly all the jokes in Disaster! don’t hit their mark. A few fall very flat. But there are enough belly laughs to keep this show afloat
Disaster! is at The Nederlander Theater, 208 West 41 Street, www.disastermusical.com. Photo:Jeremy Daniel