For those of you who love “The Poseidon Adventure,” bell-bottom jeans, and 70’s hits like “Hot Stuff,” the new broadway musical “Disaster!” is perfect for you. For everyone else (so basically everyone in general) this musical is not so perfect; quite simply, it is exactly what it’s title describes: a disaster, albeit a fun one.
“Disaster!” is located at the Nederlander Theater, written by Seth Rudestsky and Jack Plotnick, directed by Jack Plotnick, and stares Seth Rudestsky (yes you’re not the only one sensing all the repetition here), Jennifer Simard, Kerry Butler, Rachel York, Roger Bart, Max Crumm, Lacretta Nicole, Faith Prince, and Adam Pascal (yes, he’s that Adam Pascal from “Rent”). The show is filled with semi-obscure big-name actors, each bringing the audiences to ruckus applause on their first entrance, and each keeping the audience laughing throughout.
The plot of the show is based off the many, many (bad) disaster movies from the 1970s that included countless earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, twisters, and sinking ships. Somehow, this musical managed to put them all into one show. The premise of the musical is simple: a very strange group of people including a secret gambling addict nun, an older couple, an investigative reporter, a washed-up diva singer, a clueless headline and her children, a misogynistic business owner, and a “disaster expert” scientist all get onboard a floating casino, and in the course of two hours manage to survive (or not) every ridiculous plot twist, costume change, slapstick joke, 70s disco jam, and (un)natural disaster imaginable.
Amidst an underwater earthquake resulting in a tsunami that triggers the boat to flip and the kitchen to explode, various love plots intertwine. But the characters aren’t what is fun or interesting or enjoyable about this musical. What’s fun is the intricate set (by Tobin Ost) that manages to collapse, explode, crumble, shake, and even flip with ease; the ridiculous period costumes (by William Ivey Long) that manage to somehow get more torn and sexualized in each scene; and the choreography (by JoAnn M. Hunter) that somehow makes disco seem more nuanced than “Saturday Night Fever” would suggest.
But most of all, what the audience seems to love most is the music. As a 20-something this was surprising, but when you consider the elderly state of most Broadway audiences, it isn’t entirely surprising that these 40+ year-olds love hearing disco hits onstage. However, even for younger audiences, 1970s songs are still recognizable–and what’s better, their hilarious (even just for their outdatedness).
Because none of the music is original, “Disaster!” falls under the category of “album musical/jukebox musical” a genre filled with shows that are beloved by niche groups and hated by most: “Mama Mia,” “Moving Out,” “Jersey Boys,” “Rock of Ages,” “Xanadu,” and “American Idiot.” However, unlike most of these musicals, who have structured plots with odd songs wedged in, regardless of how little sense the song makes in context. But in “Disaster” half the fun of the musical is finding out what hilarious disco anthem they will make fit into the plot–the opposite of most jukebox musicals. This inversion of the worst part of jukebox musicals makes “Disaster” quite enjoyable; although the songs are no original and not exactly “musical theater” quality, their placement with the show’s plot is consistently hilarious.
Overall, the show was not “quality” theater in any sense of the word. However, they set out to do something, and they did it. It was dumb, it was silly, but it worked.