Friday, March 18, 2016

Broadway Review—‘Disaster!' the Musical

Book by Seth Rudetsky & Jack Plotnick; choreographed by JoAnn M. Hunter
Directed by Jack Plotnick
Opened March 8, 2016
Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st Street, New York, NY

Adam Rapp and Kerry Butler in Disaster! (photo: Jeremy Daniel)

Aptly titled, Disaster! is a musical not for the faint of heart. If karaoke versions of cheesy '70s pop hits make you feel queasy, and groaning old jokes and sloppy sight gags give you an upset stomach, then be forewarned: Disaster! revels in gleeful idiocy. Its two hours' traffic on the stage doesn't pretend to be Shakespearean, obviously, but it would have helped if the creators of this forgettable spoof had actually, you know, tried a little harder.

Tepidly parodying the infamous '70s Irwin Allen-style disaster movies—from The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno to Earthquake and Tidal WaveDisaster! occurs on a newly-outfitted casino boat in New York Harbor, as the usual gaggle of caricatures runs into one another before, during and after lethal  Acts of God hit the ship. 

That's pretty much it: the entire show consists of long-ago (and mainly forgotten) hits of the era, beginning with "Hot Stuff" and ending with "Hooked on a Feeling," detouring to such nuggets as "Torn Between Two Lovers," "I Will Survive" and "Muskrat Love." Sometimes earnestly, at other times ironically (but always disposably), the songs usually begin after someone makes a remark which is then answered by the first line of the song; whether or not the remainder is apropos is apparently immaterial when deciding which tunes to shoehorn in. 

This is sketch comedy of the sub-Saturday Night Live variety (even though that show has itself become sub-SNL), and creators Jack Plotnick—who also nominally directs—and Seth Rudetsky—who also nominally acts—revel in easy jokes and lazy visual humor, which references disco-era fashion and hair. The cast, comprising a surprising list of A-listers, is mostly wasted, especially a game but horrendously used Faith Prince, who spends much of her time spitting out Tourette's-like curses.

Roger Bart's comic oiliness as a dastardly villain is always welcome, while Kerry Butler, the very epitome of sweetness, scores as a tenacious reporter who periodically bursts into things like "I Am Woman." Then there's Rachel York, who manages to raise the hoary cliched bimbo above its usual basement level in a genuinely hilarious performance, besting consensus scene-stealer Jennifer Simard, who plays a nun with a gambling addiction; while amusing, Simard returns to the same well again and again, to diminishing comic returns. (The same could be said for young Baylee Littrell, who plays boy and girl twins with relish, but whose single joke gets less funny as it goes along.)

Like Rock of Ages—another less-than-mediocre jukebox musical that now looks like Oklahoma! in comparison—Disaster! is destined to be campy after-dinner entertainment on a cruise ship, a more suitable venue for it than Broadway. 

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