Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Disaster! is set on a casino boat in New York City that is anchored on the Hudson River. Through Rudetsky and Plotnick's swift-moving, goofy, and succinct script we are quickly introduced to a succession of characters, all modeled on familiar ones from famous disaster movies. The boat's owner Tony Del Vecchio (Patrick McMullen) has cut corners and costs to maximize his profits, which reporter Marianne (Amanda Glenn) has come on board to investigate. It turns out Marianne's old boyfriend Chad (Jeremy Yampolsky), whom she left at the altar, is also on board as a waiter with his friend Scott (Donovan Blau). The ship's main performer Jackie (Erin Tarkington) is busy managing her singing duties and the advances of Tony, while mothering her 11-year-old twins Ben and Lisa (both played by Xander Zeeb). Throw in the older, married couple Shirley and Maury (Rachel Crumm and Troy Homewood), has-been disco diva Levora (Kathi Osborne), a nun with a former gambling addiction (Kelley Roberts), Professor Ted Scheider (Christian Luke Ottinger), a disaster expert who frantically tries to let the passengers know that a natural man-made disaster is right around the corner, piranhas, sharks, an earthquake, fires, tidal waves, and some beloved '70s soft pop and rock songs and you have the makings for a perfectly silly and hilarious show.
Gary Crumm's inspired direction brings as much lunacy and humor to the production as possible. The script does a great job of setting up the jokes, and Crumm's production delivers, with a cast who are all skilled comics and creative elements providing plenty of gags, both visual and audio, that get big laughs. While not all of the cast are great singers and some of them struggle a bit to hit the vocal requirements of the pop score, they all instill their characters with great affection and energy. Also, the fact that about half of the songs in the show are just brief musical interludes means that some of the moments that feature slightly shrill, sustained high notes are, fortunately, short.
While this is an ensemble piece with a dozen main characters, everyone gets plenty of moments to shine. Kelley Roberts is a complete hoot as Sister Mary Downey, and Rachel Crumm is just as impressive as Shirley. They both have exceptional comic timing, and know how to land every joke they are given, while also creating humorous, hilarious, and lovable characters. Also, in a crowd-pleasing performance, Xander Zeeb is simply superb as both Ben and Lisa, altering his voice and demeanor to play the rambunctious, fun loving twins.
Jeremy Yampolsky and Amanda Glenn are a winning twosome as Chad and Marianne. Glenn's drunken version of the upbeat "I Am Woman" that takes a serious turn into "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be" is hilarious, and Yampolsky's take on "Without You" gets some big laughs. With a spirited take on the part and a singing voice with an impressive range, Christian Luke Ottinger is perfect as the Professor. Kathi Osborne infuses Levora with plenty of know-it-all sassiness, Patrick McMullen is perfectly sleazy as Tony, and Erin Tarkington is equally as ditzy as Jackie. Troy Homewood is full of charm as Maury, and Donovan Blau is appropriately inept as Scott.
Lynzee 4Man's choreography is a throw-back to all that is horribly bad and humorously awesome about 1970s period line dances, and Mickey Courtney's costumes are impressive in how they bring back the disastrous styles that were seemingly so hip at that time. Gary Crumm and Ellie Steward's set design does an adequate job of portraying the various locations in the show, the lighting design by Stacey Walston works incredibly well to evoke the many tragic moments on board, and Lindsey Ihrig's sound design features many superb sound effects. Music director Robert F. Andrews does a fairly good job with the large cast and Mark 4Man's music performance tracks are excellent.
While Disaster! did not have a long Broadway run, it has a plot that features an endless stream of humorous nods to various films in the disaster genre and an abundance of comical sight gags, characters and dialogue. With a cast who happily chew on the scenery while singing dozens of familiar songs, and direction that features zany pops of humor, Desert Stages' production is inspired lunacy that pays off with big laughs. It is a show that makes for a perfect escape.
Disaster!, through February 10, 2019, at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre at Fashion Square, 7014 East Camelback Road, Suite 0586, Scottsdale AZ. For more information, call 480-483-1664 or visit desertstages.org. Seth Rudetsky will be at the performance on Friday, January 18 and will hold a talk back after the show.
Director: Gary Crumm