BWW Review: DISASTER! Slays at Cockpit In Court
Disaster!, currently being presented by Cockpit in Court at the Essex branch of the Community College of Baltimore County, is the brainchild of the motormouth of the airwaves, "the Amahzing Seth Rudetsky," as he bills himself on the On Broadway channel of Sirius XM. Along with collaborators Jack Plotnick and Drew Geraci, Rudetsky lovingly pokes fun at two staples of 1970s popular culture: disaster movies like Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure and the disco-heavy pop music of the era. The evocation of the disaster flicks includes such necessary tropes of the genre as crowds running in terror from one predicament to another, moral dilemmas as to whom to save, and multiple individual dramas all brought to a crisis by the disaster. And the music - well, there are over thirty period songs at least sampled, from the opening number, Hot Stuff, to the closer, Hooked on a Feeling. Even if you weren't there for the Seventies the first time around, you already know, coming in, that the artefacts of this bygone time are ridiculously easy to parody, and ripe for the picking.
And pick them Rudetsky does, imbuing the process with a rare talent for the groaningly bad joke. Watch for the setup that provides the merest shred of context for various characters to sing 25 or 6 to 4, or for the nun (there has to be a member of the clergy in these movies) to sing Never Can Say Goodbye to a one-armed bandit. Look for the plot twist that turns tap dancing into a rescue tactic, or the one that explains why the nerdy disaster expert (there also has to be one of those in these movies) recreates with the torch singer character the Carly Simon/James Taylor duet Mockingbird. Plausibility is worth less than nothing in a show like this; the setup - and the sendup - are all.
Bringing Rudetsky's farrago to life is a talented and game cast, including but not limited to Lisa Pastella, Brian Jacobs and Nancy Parrish Asendorf as the aforementioned nun, expert, and torch singer respectively, Rikki Howie Lacewell as a disco diva in financial dire straits, sporting a Brillo-Pad Afro that looks like her dog (or does it turn out to be the other way around?), Liam Hamilton as a cute little boy (or is it little girl?), Liz Boyer Hunnicutt as a happily-married woman who's lived long enough to look death in the face (even if the process will require her to gag herself repeatedly while muttering obscenities), and Carly J. Amato as the incredibly plucky ingenue (who may have made some bad romantic choices in the past that by the sheerest coincidence she can now undo). These characters are presented with an absurd titular disaster within the setting, "various locations on The Barracuda, New York City's first floating casino and discotheque."
Along their various paths to survival or its opposite, these characters get to engage in some spirited and well-choreographed dancing (arrangements by David Dabbon, choreography by Todd Pearthree, who also directs with precision), and sing their way through a wide variety of pop styles (vocal arrangements by Michael McElroy), accompanied by an 8-piece pit orchestra (Michael DeVito, music director). Add some great physical gags involving used body parts, deliberately unconvincing dummy body-doubles, sharks and piranhas, and the signage on the ship's spa (thank-yous to props manager Shane Lowry and set designer Michael Rasinski).
Whether to go is not going to present any great dilemmas. This is a perfect summer evening's smart-alecky entertainment.
Disaster!, by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick, with additional material by Drew Geraci, directed and choreographed by Todd Pearthree, presented through June 30 at the F. Scott Black Theatre, at Robert and Eleanor Romadka College Center, Community College of Baltimore County Essex, 7201 Rossville Road, Essex, MD 21237. Tickets $14-$22, at 443-840-ARTS(2787) or http://www.ccbcmd.edu/calendar/event/Disaster . Some adult language.