BWW Reviews: DISASTER!: Hope Floats
It's 1979 and the opening night of Manhattan's first floating casino/discotheque. Tons of people crowd their way in for gambling and dancing, little knowing that the owner has skimped on the safety measures, and that the whole place is going down, thanks to an impending earthquake. On hand is Ted (Seth Rudetsky), a disaster expert, whose warnings, Cassandra-like, are heeded too late.
Co-writers Rudetsky and Plotnick follow the basic formula of every disaster movie: get to know the characters, and then kill some of them off in various ways. The show takes the disaster movie framework and uses it to showcase various tunes from the 1970s in ways that are usually unexpected, funny, or groan-inducing (if a character mentions a bit of trivia or other non-sequiteur, it's probably a set-up for a great pun). It's more about comedy than the music (though the talented cast and live band led by Larry Pressgrove can't help but sound great); some gag songs wisely cut out when the joke has outworn its welcome.
Who will live and who will die is always the question in such disaster flicks, and Plotnick has assembled a starry cast of hilarious musical theatre actors to embody the possibly-doomed. Matt Farcher and Robb Sapp play Chad and Scott, two buddies who take on jobs catering for the casino, though Chad is more interested in chasing tail- until he runs into Marianne (Haven Burton), his ex who left him at the altar in order to be a reporter, who is there to report on the unsafe conditions, grilling owner Tony (John Tracy Eagan), who is more interested in his love affair with lounge singer Jackie (Michele Ragusa), who has brought along her twin son and daughter Ben and Lisa (both played by Jonah Verdon). Meanwhile, Shirley (Mary Testa) and Maury (Tom Riis Farrell) a zany married couple, convince Sister (Jennifer Simard) that instead of protesting gambling outside, she could do better inside, not knowing of her gambling addiction. And of course, there's Levora (Charity Dawson), a once-popular disco queen who's down on her luck, hoping to make it big in the casino. Dropping in as several other various roles as the plot demands are Saum Eskandani, Sherz Aletaha, and Maggie McDowell.
The entire cast is great and very funny. Jennifer Simard knocks the role of Sister out of the park, starting off glum, then revealing some impressive vocals. Mary Testa is her usual brassy perfection. Rudetsky's deadpan dire warnings don't keep him from hitting his laugh lines. Farcher and Burton are charming lovebirds. Dawson lives up to the diva her character requires. Eagan is perfectly sleazy. Sapp plays the nerd to the hilt. Verdon is remarkable, as a child actor who can sing, be funny, and play two roles. Scenic and Lighting design by Josh Iacovelli is great. Costume design by Brian Hemesath must have been a dream to work on, everyone looks amazingly appropriate. Plotnick's direction is great, keeping everything moving and never missing a chance for a comic beat.
If you have a taste for campy theatre, disaster movies, or just one of the flat-out funniest casts you'll see anywhere, go check out Disaster!
DISASTER! will be performed Off-Broadway at the St. Luke's Theatre (308 W. 46th Street) beginning Monday October 14th. The schedule is Mondays at 7:30 PM, Tuesdays at 7:30 PM, Wednesdays at 2:30 PM, and Fridays at 8:00 PM. Opening night is Monday, November 4th.
Tickets for DISASTER!, which are priced from $39.50 - $69.50, are on sale now via Telecharge. Call 212-239-6200 (800-447-7400 outside of NYC) or visit disastermusical.com to purchase tickets online.
For more info, visit disastermusical.com.
Pictured: Mary Testa (center) with the cast of DISASTER!
Photo: Jeremy Daniel