You can?t toss a stone in New York City without hitting a theater housing a project that is, in some way, a spoof of something else (Rock of Ages, Showgirls! the Musical, Bayside! the Musical). But when was the last time someone attempted a full-on lampoon of an entire movie subgenre? The disaster picture was ripe for parody even in its ’70s heyday, with its all-star casts and hilariously overwrought parallel storylines set during earthquakes, airline mishaps, and crumbling buildings. The scribes behind Disaster!, a scrappy but irresistible new Off Broadway musical, wring this phenomenon for all its outrageous camp value with no shortage on gags and groans in the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker mode. It’s the perfect antidote to those lamenting the lack of Forbidden Broadway in their urban lives.
Over a dozen actors — many with multiple roles — go full out in this blissfully tacky extravaganza about a soon-to-launch casino boat that undergoes a series of catastrophes. The ship has a full gaggle of oddballs: a stuffy scientist (Seth Rudetsky) whose knowledge of wacky factoids often saves (and ruins) the day; a lounge singer (Michelle Ragusa) having a fling with the smarmy ship designer (John Treacy Egan) while dragging around her twin children (young actor Jonah Verdon riotously plays both roles); a young couple (Matt Farcher and Haven Burton) rekindling their romance; a sassy, money-swindling disco diva (Charity Dawson); a loving aged couple (Tom Riis Farrell and Mary Testa) in which the wife is harboring a terrible secret about her mortality; and of course, the requisite, guitar-toting nun (Jennifer Simard) with borderline personality disorder and a touch of gambling fever.
The songs are a barrage of K-Tel ’70s pop faves — no joke, about 30 of ?em in total from artists raging from Chicago to Donna Summer — all woven into the ridiculous plot with an unbridled impudence even the creators of Mamma Mia! might envy. (”Three Times a Lady” becomes an ode to severed female limbs.) Disaster! overdoes the plot mechanics a smidge (and with all those disco-era songs, wouldn?t ”Rock the Boat” have been optimal?). There are little dips in momentum when it concentrates on the callow young couple (though Burton and Farcher are lovely singers), and the casting of Broadway impresario Rudetsky can backfire since he always seems to be playing…Rudetsky.
But the ladies of the cast rule here, particularly Ragusa and the game-for-anything Testa. And the itty-bitty St. Luke?s Theatre threatens to crash down whenever the inspired Forbidden Broadway vet Jennifer Simard appears. A deadpan delight with a showstopping number in which she lasciviously takes on Stevie Wonder’s ”Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” while expressing her wishes to a slot machine, the gifted Simard never fails to keep this zany ship on course. B+