Disaster! is the Nick the Lounge Singer of Broadway musicals. A cast of extraordinarily gifted stars appears to have been tricked into stretching a three-minute parody of movies that were parodies to begin with into a two-hour show. The result is so painfully witless it’s hard to tell where the sea-spray ends and the flop sweat begins. Spoof disaster flicks — now there’s an original idea. Meta, even.
So take pity on Adam Pascal, Max Crum, Seth Rudetsky, Roger Bart, Kerry Butler, Jennifer Simard, Faith Prince, Kevin Chamberlin, Lucretia Nicole, Rachel York and youngster Baylee Littrell. Don’t embarrass them with your presence.
The time is 1979. The setting is the Hudson riverfront, where a docked boat has been outfitted as a casino. The pier rests on a fissure just waiting for the right disco-level thromping music to set off an earthquake, a tsunami, maybe a nuclear meltdown or two. Rudetsky, who wrote the “book” with director Jack Plotnick, also plays the Richard Dreyfuss role of a geologist waxing panic-stricken as he tries in vain to tamp down the activities on board before the inevitable, you know, disaster. As with most jukebox musicals, the script exists solely to deliver lead-ins to hit pop songs, in this case from the 1970s, including “I Am Woman,” “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Torn Between Two Lovers” and other classics it hurts my ears merely to recall. Mamma Mia! this ain’t. If you have a hankering to revisit “Feelings,” “Ben” and “Still the One,” Disaster! might be the show for you, and let me extend my condolences.
Condolences as well to the cast, especially Bart (The Producers), Prince (Guys and Dolls) and York (Victor/Victoria), who give it their all even as their six eyes convey a look not unlike the one on Janet Leigh’s face when Anthony Perkins becomes her shower buddy. There’s nothing quite like watching a terrific comic actor pace the stage with tiger sharks where his forearms once were and still not being funny.
Someone throw these folks a life preserver.
BONUS EXTRA REVIEW: Critics were invited to the Monday night off-Broadway opening of Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit. The invite was pretty irresistible: The play, which has been performed all over the world, requires just one actor, who has not seen the script before this performance; no director; and not much of a set. WRRR is being performed on Monday nights only for the next several weeks, with a different actor each time. First up was Nathan Lane; he will be followed by Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Wilson, Brian Dennehy, Martin Short, Cynthia Nixon and Alan Cumming, among others.
I can’t tell you much about the play except that the actor reads everything — the playwright’s words, instructions and commentary — and is free to add his or her own observations as the evening proceeds. I’ll tell you that it begins with the audience doing a count-off, which gets sillier and sillier (there were 231 people in the audience Monday night), and that audience participation is required. “I don’t like audience participation,” Lane commented. “It falls somewhere between incest and folk dancing”). Lane is at one point required to impersonate an ostrich prevented by a bear from seeing a play at the circus. He is a master of the ad lib, and he was in top form, those drawbridge eyebrows and parenthetical smile lines animating his razor-sharp delivery.
So we are in allegory territory, which is something like the Everglades of the mind, I think, offering equivalent doses of comedy and moral observation. Soleimanpour has insisted that the play is not about Iran, telling the BBC: “I’m sorry and sick of hearing that I’m writing about my country. I’m writing about a social phenomenon, which is obedience.”
And I can tell you one more thing about White Rabbit Red Rabbit: For reasons I can’t go into, the actor is denied that ultimate act of audience participation, a round of applause at the end. Lane deserved one, for sure.