Someday Productions LLc and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following review of DISASTER! at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre
Through July 16th
When you review as much theatre as my husband/co-reviewer and I do here at Pillow Talking, you’re bound to see some disasters, so to speak. We do, from time to time, but fortunately not all that often. However, that was precisely what did happen recently at UCONN’s Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) – but it wasn’t what you may be thinking. The disaster we saw was anything but awful – in fact, it was quite the opposite – it was the incredibly funny, clever, and over-the-top Disaster! Out of the brilliant minds of Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick (from a concept created by Rudetsky and Drew Geraci), this knock-down-drag-out piece of hilarity will have you ROFL until your sides ache and you’ll still be wanting more.
Now if the names Rudetsky and Plotnick sound familiar, it’s for good reason. Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway deejay and host of Seth Speaks on SiriusXM Radio, in addition having to a pile of creds for everything from Broadway’s The Ritz to three Emmy noms for The Rosie O’Donnell Show. The incredible talents of Plotnick may be seen in Space Station 76, a film he co-wrote and directed which starred Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler, and Matt Bomer; he has countless TV appearances including the smash hit Grace and Frankie (a favorite of my daughter Kylie), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (my daughter Chayce’s favorite), and an appearance on Supernatural (my boys, Aidan and Brady, can watch his episode over and over).
As the two long-time friends tell it, they both were products of the 70s and grew up loving cult disaster films – so they ultimately twisted different elements of the kitschy classics into a musical which is peppered with earthquakes, tidal waves, sharks, piranhas, rats, and other calamities. Toss in a deceitful casino owner, a gambling-addicted nun, a terminally ill, pelvic-thrusting woman (you’ll just have to see it!), a faded disco star, a sexy but brainless lounge singer, a set of precocious fraternal twins, a fixated disaster-expert professor, a pair of heartbroken lovers, and a waiter who’s looking for love, and you’ve got a whole lot of madness going on! Their smash went from Off-Off Broadway to Off-Broadway and ultimately to Broadway in 2016 – I guess no one in their right mind could call Disaster! an actual disaster!
It’s 1979 and The Barracuda, NYC’s first floating casino, is celebrating it’s big opening. But if he has his way, Professor Ted Scheider will put the kibosh on it because the pier onto which The Barracuda is tied is drilled into a dangerous fault line. Sometimes charming, but always slimy owner Tony Del Vecchio wants to hear nothing about it – but if truth be told, that’s not the only issue facing the shoddily constructed casino. An unrelenting investigative reporter, Marianne, knows it and plans to get it out of Del Vecchio anyway she can.
Gaggles of glam guests board the casino in outfits as colorful as their personalities – among them, Levora Varona, the out-of-work lounge singer endeavors to slip past the cab driver she stiffed; devoted married couple Maury and Shirley who are there to celebrate Maury’s retirement – outside they bump into the awkward and repressed, proselytizing Sister Mary and then encourage her to make her way down the pier as well. The frustrated Marianne, who has no interest in setting foot on the floating disaster, finds herself aboard as well. Once inside they mingle among the elite and gamble, while waiters Chad and Scott cater to their drinking and gastronomic needs. What they don’t expect, though, is that they ultimately be facing mishap after mishap, catastrophe after catastrophe, all to hilarious ends (at least the audience thinks so!).
The success of this production is due to the combined efforts of every member of its incredible cast and crew. Beginning with the co-writers’ snappy dialogue, credit must also be given to the deluge of 70s hits which are woven into the storyline as if they were intended for it all along. Thirty-four – and I counted just to be sure – THIRTY-FOUR HITS! Incredible songs like “Muskrat Love,” “Torn Between Two Lovers,” “Three Times a Lady,” “Reunited,” “Saturday Night,” “Do You Wanna Make Love” are delivered with both humor and finesse by triple-threats galore. A troupe who can sing, act, and dance up a storm (pun intended). And special mention must be given to spectacular scenic design by Tim Brown; and the deliciously uproarious choreography – it’s clear that Mary Ann Lamb must have had a ball with her work on this production!
As on Broadway, Plotnick expertly directed the CRT production. Nick Nudler as Tony is in a word, fabulously RIDONKULOUS! Sleaze oozes from him in the most spectacular way. Alyah Scott is a beautiful songbird who brings both toughness and vulnerability to her role as Marianne (and she plays an adorkable drunk!) Griffin Binnicker as Maury is loveable and ebullient; Ben Jackson Walker as Chad is everything you’d want in the handsome leading man and his scenes in the casino bathroom will have you in stitches. Equity actor Anne L. Nathan as Shirley has incredible comedic timing, and moves to die for (yet again, pun intended!); Angie Schworer (also Equity) as Jackie plays the dumb blonde with aplomb, but she’s truly an incredible talent. Rudetsky (Equity) reprising his Broadway performance as Ted Scheider is snarky, uncomfortably yet hysterically unemotional, and wonderfully self-deprecating. Maggie McDowell (Equity) reprises her role as the pricelessly riotous nun and one couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. Her love affair with the one-armed bandit is just beyond words and not to be missed. Simon Longnight as Scott is spectacular as the geeky guy who looks to handsome Chad for dating tips but can’t seem to pull them off quite as smoothly. Leanne Antonio as Levora nails it as the sassy, larger-than-life, afro-wearing, doting dog mom. Young Sana “Prince” Sarr as Ben and Lisa is phenomenal and in all honesty, embodies why I love to see children in theatre. When one displays this level of talent at his tender age, I can only imagine what the future holds!
The incredible ensemble includes: Sasha Renae Brown, Spencer LaRue, Michael Katz, and Hayden Elizabeth Price – all of whom slip in and out of costumes and roles so seamlessly as party guests and other characters.
Shout-outs to the outstanding work by the orchestra: Seth Lisle on bass; Daniel Gonko on drums; Thomas Bora on guitar; Bryan McAdams on keyboard 1 and as Conductor; Paul Feyer on keyboard 2; Alan Wasserman on reed; Jim Lendvay on trombone; and David Parsons on trumpet.
Additional kudos must go to so many! Joseph Joubert for Musical Arrangements and Scoring; Rudetsky for Song Arrangements; Michael McElroy for Vocal Arrangements; David Dabbon for Dance Arrangements; Steve Marzullo of Piano/Vocal Score Arrangements. Also to James Mountcastle as Stage Manager; McAdams as Music Director; Michael Vincent Skinner as Sound Designer; Fan Zhang as Costume Designer; Alan C. Edwards as Lighting Designer; John Parmalee as Technical Director; Pat McCorkle of McCorkle Casting, Ltd.; and Geraci as Associate Director.
If it tells you anything about how fabulous this production is, I’ve got a story to tell. There was a woman sitting directly behind me who laughed SO LOUDLY and SO OBNOXIOUSLY that we had to move our seats! Woe is me – it always happens to me! But she wasn’t the only one – the audience erupted in laughter so often they could have caused their own earthquake – so, run, don’t walk and get tickets to Disaster! before this casino sinks into the Hudson
Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s opening play for its Summer Nutmeg Series, Disaster!, is literally a knock-down-drag-out tour de force of the highest order. There was a woman behind my wife and me who was laughing – no BELLOWING – so hard that we had to move our seats after intermission (we found closer ones anyway)! The next day I felt like a truck ran over me because my ribs were still hurting from laughing – and now I fully understand the metaphor “side-splitting” when it is used in the context of describing a comedy.
Although on the surface, Disaster! may be thought of as just a musical comedy, after experiencing it, one comes away with a more layered perspective. Yes, it’s a juke box musical with just about every hit of the 70s including “Feelings” (which, come to think of it, I have not heard since the 70s). Yes, it is an over-the-top (in a good way) combo of all of the disaster movies of the 70s, especially Earthquake and The Poseidon Adventure (the original – not the shabby remake). There are farcical elements, prat falls, and even a pie-in-the-face that you could miss if you blink. The comedy is both overt and subtle – which is how a comedy piece should be. I’m a smiler and maybe a slight chuckler with an occasional guffaw. With Disaster! I was belly laughing throughout.
Disaster! is the story of New York’s first floating casino. The problem is that it is built over a major fault line and vibrations emanating from the casino trigger an earthquake which in turn triggers tidal waves which in turn triggers an avalanche of laughter. Talk about motley crews, the principals on the ill-fated Titanic-esque casino include a gambling-addicted, singing nun, a sleezy promoter and owner of the casino, a disaster expert, a pair of twins which look incredibly like the same child actor in different clothes, a puppy-toting disco diva out of Foxy Brown, two star-crossed lovers and a retired couple — where the wife pulls a Shelly Winters to save some trapped passengers, not by swimming, but rather tap dancing Morse code which she learned when she was a WAC. I kid you not.
The play was penned by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick with additional material provided by Drew Geraci. The timing and direction by Jack Plotnick, who is an accomplished actor and comedian in his own right, was simply flawless. The talented cast, all of which were triple and quadruple threats, worked together as a seamless comedy ensemble. Rudetsky was brilliantly satirical and droll as Ted Scheider, the disaster expert. Kudos also must go to Nick Nudler (Tony), Alyah Scott (Marianne), Griffin Binnicker (Maury), Ben Jackson Walker (Chad), Angie Schworer (Jackie), Simon Longnight (Scott), and Leanne Antonio (Levora Varona). Special shout outs to Anne L. Nathan (Shirley) who tap danced her way to one of the best – spoiler alert – death scenes on stage; and Sana “Prince” Sarr, a quick-change artist who played the twins Ben and Lisa with instant personality and character shifts that would make any psychoanalyst squirm in his or her seat. Finally, Maggie McDowell was priceless as the gambling-addicted, singing nun, Sister Mary. Her musical number with the Hawaii Five-O slot machine gave new meaning to the term hitting the jackpot. Finally, special mention should be made of the ensemble including Sasha Renae Brown, Spencer LaRue, Michael Katz, and Hayden Elizabeth Price.
The only real disaster about Disaster! is its relatively short run. It would be disastrous not to see Disaster! while you can. So grab a life jacket and an Uber, then carpool with a bunch of like-minded zanies so that you can arrive in time before New York’s first floating casino sails off into the horizon.