Review: All aboard the cheerfully campy musical 'Disaster!'

NEW YORK (AP) -- Welcome aboard the Barracuda, a floating casino and discotheque of dubious construction. It's 1979 and we're anchored to a pier in New York City's Hudson River, but about to set sail on a side-splittingly funny evening of singing, dancing and near-death experiences.

Directed by Jack Plotnick with a book by Plotnick and Seth Rudetsky, the musical "Disaster!" is a campy carnival of cliches and gleefully cheesy comedy. Previously performed in two small off-Broadway theaters, it's a riotous spoof of the 1972 film "The Poseidon Adventure," with hilarious references to other disaster films.

The creative team has adroitly expanded the special effects and choreography to fill the Nederlander stage on Broadway, where "Disaster!" opened Tuesday night. The book skillfully weaves a range of popular songs from the 1970s, including "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight," ''Knock Three Times," ''Hooked On a Feeling," and two iconic feminist anthems, "I Will Survive" and "I Am Woman."

Plotnick kicks the show into high gear with the energetic opening number "Hot Stuff," as lyrics cleverly shift in meaning among various characters. Tony Award-winner Roger Bart is confidently smarmy as Tony DelVecchio, the corner-cutting casino owner. Co-writer Rudetsky is nerdy perfection as Professor Ted Scheider, the disaster-predicting expert whom Tony will, of course, ignore until the Barracuda is upside down and floating out to sea.

Armed only with colorful polyester and spangled outfits, how will the passengers possibly survive an earthquake, a tsunami and encounters with a few piranhas and sharks as the ship fills with water? Then there's that inferno in the kitchen - and look out for a swarm of cuddly vermin.

But at first, it's just a party boat. Unexpectedly reunited lovers are charmingly enacted by Kerry Butler as Marianne, a feminist journalist working to expose Tony's shady business practices, and Adam Pascal, winningly earnest as Chad, the handsome ex-fiance she dumped a few years back.

Inimitable Tony-winner Faith Prince is bursting with charm as Shirley Summers, secretly suffering from a terminal illness whose symptoms include uncontrollable cursing and eye-winking. Shirley's out to party with her just-retired husband, Maury (Kevin Chamberlin), and duet on "You're Still The One." In addition to shamelessly milking her symptoms with comic genius, Prince deftly leads the entire cast in tap-dancing the emergency escape instructions in Morse code.

Jennifer Simard quietly steals scenes as a deadpan singing nun with a gambling addiction, and brings down the house performing an increasingly lascivious version of "Never Can Say Goodbye" to a slot machine. Rachel York gives class to leggy lounge singer Jackie, a single mother of twins. She plaintively sings "When Will I Be Loved?" with Baylee Littrell, who provides plenty of sight gags as both twins, scampering to be in two places at once.

While laughs are guaranteed at the mere sight of down-on-her-luck actress Lavora, (a sassy Lacretta Nicole), there's ever-pessimistic scientific input from the Professor. But some character will always pop up with a new rescue idea, and there is high hilarity on these high seas.

 

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