Disaster! Shakes Broadway (in a good way…)

Disaster! Shakes Broadway (in a good way…)

Life-threatening catastrophes are no laughing matter, but Disaster! had me smiling so much that my face hurt. I’m not usually a fan of silly shows, but it was the combination of an ensemble of talented folks portraying some delightfully offbeat characters, nods to ridiculous disaster movies and the clever use of 70s pop hits that made me embrace the camp. (Let it be known that the “25 or 6 to 4” joke is my absolute favorite musical comedy moment of the year thus far.)

A floating casino/discothèque docked on the Hudson River is put in peril when a series of earthquakes and some serious safety oversights coexist. The boat, built on a fault line and not up to par with fire codes, cannot withstand all of the hubbub caused by both the shaking ground and some overzealous gamblers. Adding to the chaos is a mix of characters, each with an over-the-top story that has you wondering if they will actually make it off the boat or die trying.

The Disaster! cast is a stacked deck of quality entertainers. Roger Bart plays Tony Delvecchio, the sleazy casino owner who is at fault for pretty much everything, yet Bart is such a joy to watch because his Tony is as charming as he is awful. Rachel York (Jackie) is fantastic as the lounge singer who is hung up on Tony as she leads the casino-goers in some up-tempo numbers. Faith Prince (Shirley) and Kevin Chamberlin (Maury) have the adorable long-time married couple chemistry down pat, though she’s got a secret. Formerly engaged Marianne and Chad are reunited when she, a reporter looking to take down Delvecchio, and he, a flirty cater-waiter at the casino, find themselves on the same sinking ship. Kerry Butler shines as Marianne, the feminist go-getter who once put her career ahead of her relationship. As Chad, Adam Pascal crushes classic pop ballads with his swoon-worthy vocals. Not only does he sing one of my favorite songs of all time, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” but I was dying from feels during “Sky High.” (His voice on those harmonies… um, I still need a moment, okay?) Co-writer/music supervisor/song arranger Seth Rudetsky deserves a round of applause for his role in putting this whole show together, as well as his work as Professor Ted Scheider—the man who does his darnedest to save the people on the boat despite hardly anyone taking him seriously about the science behind the destruction.

What brings me great joy during a show is when I am captivated by a performer or two I was previously unfamiliar with. In his Broadway debut, Baylee Littrell plays Jackie’s twin children, Ben and Lisa. (Yes, they have the same face, but Lisa’s the one with the hat.) Littrell holds his own on stage with this veteran cast and earns every laugh as he deftly plays his own sibling. And then there is Jennifer Simard as Sister Mary Downy, the bespectacled nun with a flair for the dramatic who fancies that Hawaii 5-0 slot machine as much as I enjoy Adam Pascal’s voice. Her passive-aggressiveness and comedic timing is on point. Sweet Jesus, I haven’t guffawed that much during a show in quite awhile.

Climb aboard this ship of schemes while it’s still afloat. Disaster! will be destroying the Nederlander Theatre thru July 3.

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