Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Arizona Broadway Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of Blooming Cactus and Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella

The Cast
Photo by Alexxis Grant, Timeless Present Photos
Anyone who was alive in the 1970s knows that there was a stream of extremely popular disaster films, including The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, and The Poseidon Adventure, and that there was also an abundance of catchy and successful pop song hits. Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick took iconic elements and characters from many of those famous disaster movies to form their musical comical spoof Disaster! and set their wacky plot against a score that features more than two dozen hit pop songs from the '70s. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production is a hoot, with a great cast who have a lot of fun throwing themselves into the hilarity, and creative elements that sparkle with a lot of silly sight gags.

Rudetsky and Plotnick's swift moving and goofy plot sets the action at the grand opening of a casino boat anchored on the Hudson River in New York City. We quickly meet the cast of characters, all of whom are modeled on traits of characters you'll immediately recognize from any of those 70s disaster films.

The boat's owner Tony Delvecchio (Christian Fary) has cut corners to maximize his profits which reporter Marianne (Alyssa Armstrong) has come on board to investigate. It turns out Marianne's old boyfriend Chad (Joe Ogren), whom she left at the altar, is also on board as a waiter with his friend Scott (Matthew Paris). The ship's main performer Jackie (Cara Chumbley) is busy managing her singing duties, pining for Tony, who she believes plans to marry her, and mothering her 11-year-old twins Ben and Lisa (both played by Emilee Clapp). Throw in the older, married couple Shirley and Maury Winters (Carolyn McPhee and Wes Martin), has-been disco diva Levora Verona (Brooklynn Grace), a nun with a former gambling addiction (Lynzee Foreman), the disaster expert Professor Ted Scheider (Tyler Gallaher), who frantically tries to let the passengers know that a natural disaster is right around the corner, along with piranhas, sharks, an earthquake, fires, tidal waves, and some beloved 70s soft pop and rock songs and you end up with a perfectly silly and hilarious show that uses many well-known pop hits to move the plot along.

Danny Gorman has directed several shows at ABT and here his work is excellent. This isn't a show with a deep message but a comical spoof that uses props, sight gags, and jokes to create hilarious bits, and Gorman manages to use everything at his disposal to ensure the laughs are big and the hilarity shines. It also helps that the cast don't hold back making sure their performances hit all of the required comical beats the silly script requires. They also all have fantastic singing voices that truly bring each of the well-known pop songs vibrantly to life under Lizzie Webb's music direction.

Ryan Howell's two-level set design has some fun tricks up its sleeve as do the props by Jamie Hohendorf-Parnell, which all add to the comical hijinks. Lenora J. Nikitin's costumes and the wigs by Chris Zizzo play up the horrific and hilarity of the styles of the 1970s, as does the cheesy choreography by Kurtis W. Overby. I especially love how the act two costumes show the effects of the disasters the characters have come in contact with. The lighting design by Heather Reynolds is bright and focused and Jesse Worley's sound design features some fun sound effects and clear vocals from the cast.

Disaster! features a dozen main characters, and the script manages to weave them all equally into the action so each gets several moments to shine. As Chad and Marianne, Joe Ogren and Alyssa Armstrong have fantastic singing voices, including Armstrong's hilarious drunken take on "I Am Woman" that takes a dark, dramatic turn into "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be," and Ogren's powerful pipes shine on "Without You" and several other well-known hits. Emilee Clapp is superb as twins Ben and Lisa, with a simple addition of a baseball cap and a deepening of her voice to move from Lisa to Ben. There are a couple of scenes in which Clapp quickly goes back and forth between the two characters that proved to be crowd pleasing moments at the performance I attended.

Lynzee Foreman is hilarious as the nun with the gambling addiction; watching her covet and caress the slot machine while singing "Never Can Say Goodbye" and "Torn Between Two Lovers" gets big laughs. Carolyn McPhee is warm and funny as Shirley, the character modeled on the one played by Shelly Winters in The Poseidon Adventure. McPhee's comical facial reactions work wonderfully for this character, who has a fatal illness where the side effects are facial tics, spouting profanity, and obscene groin movements, which McPhee hilariously manages to display all three at the same time.

As Professor Ted Scheider, Tyler Gallaher has the right level of seriousness and intensity for a man who has events from his past that haunt him with the desire to save the people around him, if they'll only listen to him. Christian Fary is appropriately slimy, sleazy, condescending, and entirely hilarious as Tony Delvecchio, a man who only cares about himself. As Levora Verona, Brooklynn Grace is warm and winning as the diva who has fallen on hard times.

Cara Chumbley has a bright singing voice and the right level of ditziness for the not entirely on the ball Jackie. Wes Martin is charming as Shirley's husband Maury, and Matthew Paris is sweet as the somewhat inept Scott. The small ensemble play multiple characters and victims and each gets a few moments to display their sharp comic chops.

Disaster! may not be an excellent musical or one that alters the future of theatre but it does have a plot that manages to weave together the characters and plots of various films in the disaster genre while using the songs of the period of those movies to provide the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters. If you're not familiar with those films or the songs of the 1970s, you might not quite understand why people are laughing around you. However, if you are familiar with those movies and the songs in the show, with a cracker jack cast who happily chew on the scenery, spit it out, and then chew on it some more, sharp comical direction, and humorous creative elements, you should find Arizona Broadway Theatre's production is a hilarious hoot.

Disaster! runs through September 15, 2023, at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 623 776-8400.

Director: Danny Gorman
Choreography: Kurtis W. Overby
Music Direction: Lizzie Webb
Scenic Design: Ryan Howell
Lighting Design: Heather Reynolds
Sound Design: Jesse Worley
Costume Design: Lenora J. Nikitin
Wig Design/Coordination: Chris Zizzo
Prop Design: Jamie Hohendorf-Parnell
Stage Management: Nico Rossetti
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting and Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Chad Rubik: Joe Ogren
Scott: Matthew Paris
Professor Ted Scheider: Tyler Gallaher
Tony Delvecchio: Christian Fary
Marianne Wilson: Alyssa Armstrong
Sister Mary Downy: Lynzee Foreman
Shirley Winters: Carolyn McPhee
Maury Winters: Wes Martin
Levora Verona: Brooklynn Grace
Jackie Noelle: Cara Chumbley
Ben/Lisa Noelle: Emilee Clapp
Casino Guests & Staff: Tony Blosser, Gina Guarino, Temperance Jones, Bruno Streck Rodrigues, Natalie Schaffer, Isaac Wesley Wilson