8/10/2019        DISASTER!    A 70’S DISASTER MOVIE MUSICAL              Act 3 Productions

 

THE TOWERING JUGGERNAUT EARTHQUAKE ADVENTURE

 

Those of us of “a certain age” look back fondly on the movies of the 1970’s as a new “Golden Age of Cinema,” brimming with towering bastions of talent and creativity.  Francis Ford Coppola.  George Lucas.  Steven Spielberg.  Martin Scorsese.  All were seeing their careers take off with groundbreaking films that have all become classics.

 

Some of us may even have blocked out the memory of those other movies of the times, the Disaster films, those epic exercises in big-budget cheesiness and wholesale slaughter-of-celebrities.  But some memories stick forever, like a bath in something foul that never washes off.  Shelley Winters’ underwater stunt in The Poseidon Adventure.  Jennifer Jones tumbling to her doom in The Towering Inferno.  The   debacle of Sensurround, which was supposed to make movie-goers watching Earthquake think they were really shaking.  Everything about The Swarm.  These are memories ripe for plucking (and eviscerating). 

 

Welcome to Disaster!  A 70’s Disaster Movie Musical, an elaborate exercise in unapologetic cheesiness that is also a “Juke-Box Musical” for many of our least fond memories of the music of 1970’s.  Okay, I say “least fond” but did take a very real (albeit guilty) pleasure in hearing too many of these

earworms again.  First conceived way back in 1992 by the Amahhhzing Seth Rudesky, it debuted off-off-Broadway in 2012, graduated to off-Broadway a year later, and finally docked at Broadway’s Nederlander Theater in 2016.  The show as not a Disaster, as it garnered mostly positive reviews, but it only lasted for two short months.

 

And now, here it is, being given a lively and tongue-in-cheek airing by Sandy Springs’ Act 3 Productions.  And, once it got going, I enjoyed every minute of it.

 

Sleazy billionaire and entrepreneur Tony Delvecchio (who bears more than a few similarities to a certain New York billionaire and entrepreneur of the 1990’s) is opening his new casino, attached to a dock to float around New York gambling laws by being essentially a ship in the river (fjord?).  It’s the gala opening, and a veritable Disaster-Movie cast of characters is boarding.  There’s Professor Ted, a Disaster specialist who is the scientific voice of doom and gloom.  There’s Jackie Noelle, the fading lounge singer who is hoping for a proposal from Tony, even though he is a POS who is cruel to her and her twins, Ben and Lisa.  There’s Chad and Scott, best friends and waiters.  There’s Marianne Wilson, intrepid reporter. There’s Maury and Shirley Winters, an aging couple enjoying retirement.  There’s Sister Mary Downey, a nun with a taste for nickel slots.  There’s Levora Verona, a Disco Star long past her expiration date.  And there’s a plethora of passengers and employees and soon-to-die characters filled by an ensemble of enviable chameleonosity.

 

So, the Disaster-Movie checklist is here – corrupt businessman behind everything that goes wrong (and possessing the courage – and charisma – of a sippy-cup of Jello), single-mother coping with her divorce and her unruly twins, pompous scientist who happens to be right, woman keeping secret her fatal illness, and an anonymous cast of characters ripe for vivisection from falling ceilings and chandeliers, savage rats and piranhas, fire, explosion, water, sharks, and bad music.

 

But the true fun is how the songs are set up – not-so-lame puns, preposterous plot devices, contrived dialogue intros (just wait until you hear the set-ups for songs by the Bay City Rollers and Chicago).  More to the point, there are about a bajillion songs here, and we don’t have to hear any of them the whole way through – they hit their marks, get their laughs, and respectfully yield to the next.  I suspect if “Muskrat Love” had been allowed to endure more than 20 seconds, most of the audience would want to join the cast in the piranha pool.

 

This is a very large cast and are a bit uneven as far as ability goes.  But rather than pick on the (few) who underwhelmed (though no one was wincingly awful or completely without merit), let me highlight the (few) who overwhelmed.  On the acting side, Summer McCusker is an energetic ball of delight as both Ben and Lisa, Johnna Barrett Mitchell is all Mama-Love and passion as Jackie Noelle, and Jason Meinhardt is all smarmy 70’s toxic millionaire as Tony.  On the musical side, Kyle Larkin’s Chad gave a perfectly over-the-top “Without You” that shook the rafters, Christy Robinson’s Levora had an impressive set of pipes that gave the lie to her “past her prime” characterization, and Jim Dailey and Tiffany Jarman Jansen not only were perfectly cast as Maury and Shirley Winters, but made “Still the one” a personal anthem.  And, as far as ensemble work goes, the finale (a certain TBA Blue Suede ditty that I won’t spoil here) was pitch-and-harmony perfect, and sent us out of the theatre wondering how we could ever have not liked these songs and movies,

Yes, the effects are cheap and cheesy, purposely so – a slot machine made of plywood that can’t seem to stay closed, a mustache with a life of its own, a tacky dummy carried around whenever both twins are on stage at the same time, a pair of stuffed sharks that end up as {deleted by the spoiler piranhas}, fake body parts, stage hands acting as swing doors or being stranded on stage when the lights come up, etc etc etc. 

 

What is not cheap and cheesy is the direction by Spencer Stephens, the music direction by John-Michael d’Haviland, the choreography by Johnna Barrett Mitchell, the lights by Jeff Costello, the sound by Sophie Harmon, the costumes by Mari Miller, and the set (purposeful cheesiness aside) by Tony Matteson.  All were perfectly “in synch,” and perfectly “tuned” to the spirit of the piece.  This, in fact, was one of the best Design and Tech ensembles I’ve seen at this venue.

 

So, Disaster! Is one of those shows you’ll either love or hate, depending on your ability to consume over-the-top cheesiness. One critic described the original production as “gushing with Velveeta,” a revolting image to be sure, but, IMHO, spot-on accurate.  It’s funny, it’s silly, and it’s actually not without a (doomed) boatload of affection for the movies and songs it’s allegedly parodying.  And, to my mind, that’s the BEST kind of parody.  So count me on the “Loved It” side of the ledger.

 

Congratulations to Act 3 Productions for having the courage to tackle Disaster!  A 70’s Disaster Movie Musical, and for having the resources to mount it so well.


     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com    @bk_rudy    #ACT3Disaster!   #WhatCouldPossiblyGoWrong)

 

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