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Review: 'Disaster!'

by Photo of Paul Hansen

‘Disaster! the Musical’ is an avalanche of comedic fun.

Review: 'Disaster!'

Earthquakes. Sharks. A high-rise inferno. A capsized ocean liner. Such were the things that epic disasters films were made of back in the 1970's. And those films provide the material for the wonderful spoof Disaster!, a musical parody of the disaster film genre which recently opened at the St. Luke's Theatre on West 46th Street.

Disaster films in the 1970’s were as prevalent as movies about superheroes are today. The genre kicked off in 1970 with the release of Airport which was the second highest grossing film of the year and spawned three sequels. The catastrophe genre marched on during the 70's with the release of The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno and The Swarm, all produced by Irwin Allen who was known as the “Master of Disaster.” Jaws, released in 1975, is commonly considered the first summer blockbuster. It put Steven Spielberg on the map and altered the landscape of Hollywood.

The disaster decade unofficially came to an end in 1980 with Airplane!, which was, of course, a spoof of the enormously successful Airport films. Disaster! takes up where Airplane! left off in its satire of the conventions of films focused on catastrophe.

Disaster! is set in 1979 on a floating casino/disco anchored off of Manhattan. During the course of an evening the casino is subjected to an earthquake, tidal waves which capsize it, and a variety of wild beasts ranging from sharks, piranhas and even swarms of killer bees.

Giving new meaning to the term whistling in the dark, cast members exuberantly sing a multitude of pop melodies from the 70's as they attempt to escape from the chaos around them. Clever comedic turns of plot justify robust renditions of such 70's hits as "Feelings", "Hot Stuff", "Alone Again, Naturally," and "Don't Cry Out Loud," among many, many other well-known tunes of the decade. This music may be mocked by some now, but it dominated the air waves back then. In fact, anybody attending Disaster! will receive a very good overview of the 70's hit parade, all the way down to the elevator music.

Disaster! has a uniformly terrific cast and it is hard to single out any one performer specifically for praise. Mary Testa plays middle-aged Shirley (yes, you can call her Shirley) who was obviously inspired by the Shelly Winters character in The Poseidon Adventure. In her portrayal, Testa seems to be channeling the brashness of Bette Midler and the late Bella Abzug.

The musical shows its attention to nuance of the disaster genre in the brother and sister characters of Ben and Lisa (there were young brother and sister siblings in both Poseidon Adventure and Towering Inferno.) With the strategic use of a cap and wig, both Ben and Lisa are portrayed by very talented child actor Jonah Verdon.

Disaster! isn't a catastrophe, but it is a blast of two hours of dizzying comedic gags and exuberant musical energy. I must have had a good time watching it because the only thing I could think of as the show ended was when I would see it again. For performance times and more information log on to www.disastermusical.com.

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