The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings






Etcetera and
Short Term Listings



See links at top of our Main Page







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review

"We're all very lucky..."—Ted
"But he's dead!"—Woman Who Screams
"Except for him."—Ted
Tom Riis Farrel & Mary Testa
(Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)
One fateful night in 1979, a heartless entrepreneur, a showgirl with her twin children in tow, a neurotic professor, a has-been disco diva, a gambling-addicted nun, an older couple, and a feminist and the man she left at the altar (among others) walk onto New York's first floating casino.

This might sound like the beginning of a corny joke, and to an extent, it is. Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick's Disaster!, a musical inspired by the music and disaster films of the 1970s, is nothing but corny — from the opening number ("Hot Stuff," the lyrics of which refer to romance as much as the food on board the casino or the soil samples from under the pier indicating an impending earthquake) all the way through the finale ("Hooked on a Feeling," where the disaster's survivors are literally hooked onto a rescue helicopter).

From a distance, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that Disaster! won't offer much more than tired cliches and cheesy pop hits. That wouldn't even be completely incorrect. But thanks to an acute self-awareness on the part of the writers, a wonderful ensemble cast, and Mr. Plotnick's spot-on direction, it absolutely works. Disaster! knows exactly what it is, and it manages to use its potential cheesiness to incredibly comic effect, making it great fun to watch.

The musical actually has plenty to offer beyond a bunch of throwaway jokes and a nostalgia trip of songs. After meeting all the characters as they board the boat, we slowly learn more about their lives and their relationships to one another. Even though the characters all derive pretty strictly from movie archetypes, they are enlivened by being thrown together with one another. They're not exceptionally deep, but that doesn't mean you won't care.

One particularly compelling plot line involves the nun struggling with a gambling addiction (Jennifer Simard) and Shirley (Mary Testa), who is hiding her diagnosis with a Saturday Night Fever-esque disease from her husband (Tom Riis Farrell) so that they can enjoy the time they have left together. Simard and Testa are independently clear audience favorites throughout the show, but their interactions allowed for some compelling character work and even provides some genuinely emotional moments.

Such moments provide a nice bit of nuance amidst the torrents of jokes that come at you every second. Every potential source of humor is fully tapped. Classic songs are repurposed in unexpected ways, nearly every major 1970s disaster film receives a shout out (which makes for a lot of disasters in one show),and physical humor abounds.

Even the technical components do their part: Brian Hemesath's costumes are appropriately evocative, a sparse set by Josh Iacovelli has some tricks up its sleeve, and Emily Jackson's props adds some great bits with puppets and spare limbs.

Much of the humor derives from 1970s references, and the target demographic does seem to be an audience that has firsthand experience with the sources of these references. Nonetheless, even those born after the '70s — a category that includes this reviewer — can enjoy Disaster. Many of the songs are still considered classics, and the film allusions aren't particularly obscure. Even for someone with no familiarity with these films at all, the humor is still objectively funny without context, similar to the 1980 film Airplane! (which also draws on the disaster films of the '70s for comic inspiration).

The ensemble's energy and precise timing, assisted by Denis Jones' choreography, prove another valuable asset. A few highlights include Marianne (Haven Burton) singing "I Am Woman" alongside Lisa (one of two twins played by Jonah Verdon), with several perfectly timed transitions into "That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be"; the Sister's shimmy-filled delivery of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" to a slot machine; the rendition of "Knock on Wood" by Levora (Charity Dawson) that triggers the earthquake; and Shirley leading Ted (Rudetsky), Jackie (Michele Ragusa), and the ensemble in a tap dance to "Knock Three Times."

Simply put, the joy of Disaster! is seeing some incredibly talented performers act completely ridiculous in a delightfully over-the-top show. It's not Shakespeare, nor is it trying to be. This show knows exactly what it is, and it happens to be a lot of fun. Disaster? Anything but.
by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick
Directed by Jack Plotnick

with Sherz Aletaha (Woman Who Screams/Ensemble), Haven Burton (Marianne), Charity Dawson (Levora), John Treacy Egan (Tony), Saum Eskandani (Wealthy Husband/Ensemble), Matt Farcher (Chad), Tom Riis Farrell (Maury), Maggie McDowell (Wealthy Wife/Ensemble), Michelle Ragusa (Jackie), Seth Rudetsky (Ted), Robb Sapp (Scott), Jennifer Simard (Sister), Mary Testa (Shirley), and Jonah Verdon (Ben/Lisa)
Choreographer: Denis Jones
Associate Director and Choreographer: Drew Geraci
Assistant Director: Ben Campbell
Set and Lighting Design: Josh Iacovelli
Costume Design: Brian Hemesath
Sound Design: A&L Sound Partners
Properties: Emily Jackson
Music Director/Orchestrations: Larry Pressgrove
Music Supervisor: Steve Marzullo
Stage Manager: Jeff Davolt
Assistant Stage Manager: Tom Kosis
Produced by Mary J. Davis and James Wesley
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes with intermission
St. Luke's Theatre, 308 W. 46th Street 212/239-6200
From 10/14/2013; opened 11/04/13<; open-endedbr> Performance times: Mondays and Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 2:30 pm, and Fridays at 8:00 pm
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 11/01/13 performance
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Disaster
  • I disagree with the review of Disaster
  • The review made me eager to see Disaster
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message. If you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
The New Similes Dictionary
New Similes Dictionary

Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show

©Copyright 2013, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from