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The surprising heart of the raucous new musical parody
Can a parody have heart, too?
That's the question inside Disaster!, the new Broadway musical now in previews at the Nederlander Theatre. On one hand, the show is a breezy send-up of 70s disaster flicks. In just two acts, a shipload of swells faces an earthquake, a tidal wave, towering infernos, and shark attacks, all while singing disco-era pop hits like "Muskrat Love" and "Torn Between Two Lovers." Anyone looking for laughs and camp can certainly find them.
But at the same time, book writers Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick aren't just in it for the jokes. "What I like about our show is that it's a farce with a lot of emotion attached," Rudetsky says, adding that he's inspired by the carefully crafted humor of Charles Busch and Carol Burnett. Those greats take comedy taken seriously, without winking at the audience, even when they're after big yuks.
"Jack wanted all the jokes to make sense and be logical," continues Rudetsky, who also stars as a "noted disaster expert" who just happens to be on the ship. "Yes, it's highly comedic, but the audience has to think that all the character's lives are in peril and care about them all."
Plotnick, who also directs the show, agrees, adding, "We didn't want our show to make fun of the cheesiness of the later-'70s disaster movies. We want to give it that classical musical comedy feeling, getting big laughs while still respecting the characters and their journey, and accompanied by the best music in the world."
The current production follows a successful Off-Broadway run, but Rudetsky says he had Broadway on his mind even when he originally created the show as a one-off benefit in 2011. Now that they've made the move, Rudetsky and Plotnick continue to work on the script. "We made it funnier and deeper and more emotional," says Plotnick, "And everybody's character has a satisfying journey. It's just a better script."
Part of the inspiration for the show was Rudetsky's desire to collaborate with theatre pals. "I'm working with comic geniuses, and we're putting new stuff into the script every day," he says. (The cast includes Kerry Butler, Faith Prince, Rachel York, Adam Pascal, Kevin Chamberlin and, as a newly added character, Roger Bart.)
And the lessons learned from turning a wild comedic notion into a full-fledged Broadway extravaganza?
"It's that you have to do it yourself," says Rudetsky. "After the benefit my husband and I started contacting producers. We just did it. So don't wait for the opportunity to come along and don't be discouraged by setbacks, which are inevitable. You've got to play every avenue to make it happen."
TDF Members: At press time, discounted tickets were available for Disaster! Go here to browse our current offers.
Pictured above: Seth Rudetsky (center) and the cast of Disaster! Photo by Jeremy Daniel.