By Karen Isaacs
Even if you don’t remember all those disaster movies from the 1970s, you will find the musical spoof “Disaster!” now at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre through Sunday, June 16 very good fun.
Creators Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick have taken the disaster film formula and combined it with pop music from the period.
It’s set at the opening of Casino 54 in NYC, built next to a pier to get around limitations on gambling. But the owner (Tony) has cut every corner imaginable. Attending this grand opening are the usual cast of characters: a once famous Disco diva; a middle-aged, middle-class husband and wife; the person dying of a rare disease with weird symptoms; a waiter trying to get a date; a man crashing the party to meet girls; the girl friend who is being strung along by the proprietor; a nun handing out leaflets on the evils of gambling and more.
Of course, there is an intrepid reporter who know about the various safety violations AND the “voice of doom” in this case a geology professor who is trying to warn everyone of a coming earthquake.
So like all disaster films, act one is spent setting up the characters and getting them to interact. The act ends with the earthquake. Act two is about the escalating disasters occurring and the efforts of the group to get out alive.
It isn’t meant to be taken seriously.
For a show like Disaster! to succeed, the cast must play it seriously. They have to create believable characters and make the absurd situations seem real.
This cast, led by several Broadway veterans, absolutely does it. Rudetsky himself is here playing “the professor” – a part he played both off and on Broadway. He is the typical serious, determined academic who also has the optimism of a Pollyanna.
Anne L Nathan who plays Shirley, the wife in the long married couple, was offered the part for the other productions but always had a scheduling conflict. Now she gets the chance to play this woman with the strange and fatal disease.
The comic highlight among the characters is Sister Mary, the gambling addicted nun. Maggie McDowell who was in the Broadway cast, is a delight. She never loses a sense of realism in the role. Angie Schworer is excellent as Jackie, the chanteuse at the disco who keeps waiting for Tony to “pop the question.”
But the students who round out the cast are also excellent. Nick Nudler plays Tony as a John Travolta look-alike right down to the “Saturday Night Fever” moves.
Tim Brown has done an excellent job creating the set that goes from glamorous to destroyed in just moments. He’s aided by the very good work by sound designer Michael Vincent Skinner and light designer Alan C. Edwards.
Fan Zhang has perfectly captured the 1970s disco look in the costumes. You know they are polyester.
The music – everything from “Hot Stuff,” “Torn Between Two Lovers,” “Three Times a Lady,” “Nadia’s Theme,” “Reunited,” “I Will Survive,” and even “I Am Woman” and “Feelings” is used to good advantage. Those of us who lived through the period will remember it and the younger members of the audience will find the beat infectious.
Disaster! is a really fun and funny production. My teenage granddaughter – while not being familiar with the films or the music — had a great time.
For tickets, call 860-486-2113 or visit Connecticut Rep