I have no freaking idea what the commercial endgame for Disaster! can possibly be in realistic terms, simply because its cast is so big and its personality is so deliberately on-the-cheap and off-Broadway (it’s playing a limited schedule at St. Luke’s Theatre, midtown), but it’s just possibly the most fun evening in town.
As the title suggests, it’s a spoof on the big-budget disaster movie genre that was so prevalent in the 70s and commensurately its jukebox movie score is a compendium of popular 70s standards. Usually I’m not a fan of the jukebox strategy, because usually it’s just a lazy device, but in this case it’s part-and-parcel of the pointed satire, and all the songs are put to good and most-often very ironic use, the point-of-song-recognition itself generally but the first of several rewarding jokes per number.
As to the structure, dialogue scenes and setups, the book by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnik covers and combines all the expected disaster movie tropes with some delightful mash-ups. What’s especially nice about their work is that it’s more broad satire than camp, and when it overlaps with and then full-out dives into camp (as is, I suppose, inevitable at the point where danger escalates to absurd proportions) it doesn’t do so with the usual, exhausting and lazy sensibility that renders everything in terms of sex jokes as filtered through clichés of gay subculture. No, this is irreverence that sticks very much to the point. A thing isn’t absurd because it can be easily derided; but rather because purely on its own terms it provides intrinsic, exploitable absurdity. It may sound like a fine distinction, but that fractional difference makes all the difference.
In New York theatre terms, the cast is a virtual all-star roster, including John Treacy Egan, Tom Riis Farrell, Michele Ragusa, Maggie McDowell, Jennifer Simard and Mary Testa (among twice as many others)—with long-faced, lanky, ineradicably Jewish co-author Rudetsky an unlikely (and therefore appropriate) stand-in for the goyische-seeming Paul Newman or Michael Caine-type role of the expert who tries to warn everybody of impending disaster before it strikes. (Mr. Rudetsky’s co-author, Mr. Plotnik, stays behind the scenes directing with an impeccable sense of comic proportion.)
There’s really a great deal more to say in praise of the lunatic enterprise that is Disaster! but to say it is to spoil jokes and gags best experienced as surprises. So I’ll leave you with this: Disaster! is anything but. Get to it before the Poseidon transfers to the more expensive venue that might keep it afloat; or the tower finally collapses under the weight of inevitable financial reality…
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