By Rory Winston

By the time I went to see Disaster – a (patiche) lampoon that weaves the worst of 70’s music with the worst of 70’s disaster films – hosannas from the best of publications were already emblazoned on the walls of the theatre like those blockbuster quotes that once advertised, well, disaster films in the 70’s.
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Clearly, what first ran through my mind was: please, not one of those it’s-so-bad-it’s-good plays that smart critics endorse in order to ensure that their readers couldn’t possibly predict their predilections. More disconcerting still was that after only three minutes had elapsed, I was unceremoniously roused by a distinctly idiotic and uncontrolled laugh that seemed to be emanating from the chair that lay directly where I was sat. A few minutes later and I was ready to hail those who had hailed before me. The blurbs were right. The idiosyncratic little gem by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick was a winner from start to finish.

Although not all may recall, 70’s radio employed a form of comic dialogue where clever DJ’s would pretend to interview politicians and then have songs answer in their stead. A famous Richard Nixon riff had the President being asked about how he feels about Watergate. The song answers in his stead: “I’m a joker, I’m a smoker…” followed by “leave me alone, why won’t you leave me alone” and so on – question after question with song-bite after song-bite in response. In Disaster, the art form is revived in better and more fully fleshed out character-driven form.

The set-up sounds like the start of an old Jewish joke: There’s this floating disco casino on a Manhattan pier; and on it is one playboy waiter (Broadway singer Matt Farcher), his ex – a woman lib news reporter (played remarkably well by Haven Burton), a nauseatingly loving elderly Brooklyn couple (Mary Testa and Tom Riis Farrell), a twin brother and sister (both played by Jonah Verdon), a sleazy penny pinching safety-hazard-of-an-owner (John Treacy Egan), a down and out disco queen (Charity Dawson) and, oh, you’ll love this, Sister Mary – that’s right ‘a nun with a bad habit’ – gambling. And then, to top it all off, there’s a nerdy “disaster” expert (played expertly by Rudetsky himself). “What ensues?” you ask. Well, Disaster, of course. There’s Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, Killer Bees (the swarm), piranhas (some former flick), and a bit of Towering Inferno. It’s a scream; and the cast screams a lot, as well.

From the nun’s rendition of Torn Between Two Lovers – slot machines and Christ – to the disaster expert mourning his lost lover, Wo, by singing “Feelings…wo, wo, wo, feelings” to hearing Once twice Three Times a Lady being crooned to the severed remains of a girlfriend, Disaster is a high-art tribute to high school humor as much as it is a homage to the pre-pubescent taste shared by most of America during the 70’s.

When Disaster’s ‘Sister Mary explains it all to you’ by belting out Here I am, signed Sealed Delivered, she isn’t just describing her own ‘spiritually sinful rebirth’ but, she is essentially echoing the sentiment shared by the entire audience as the curtain drops. •

Disaster!

St. Luke’s Theatre
308 46th St. New York, NY
(212) 246-8140
disastermusical.com

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