If the names France Joli and Irwin Allen mean nothing to you (and no, they aren’t some hot supercouple du jour), you may not be the right audience for Disaster! on Broadway!), the merry musical now at the Nederlander Theatre. But if you spent any significant time in a cinema or disco during the 1970s (or maybe just in your bedroom), this decidedly campy and often delicious spoof of all those spine-tinglingly suspenseful, slightly ridiculous 1970s disaster movies, enlivened by 30 of the most memorable (and memorably inane) songs of the era, will have you rockin’ the boat and rolling in the aisles.
Forget the SS Poseidon; Disaster! takes place aboard the Barracuda, a cruise ship-cum casino docked on New York’s West Side in 1979 that attracts a surprisingly wide variety of opening-night passengers. There’s hunky cater-waiter Chad (the handsome, virile-voiced Adam Pascal) and crusading journalist Marianne (the always wonderful Kerry Butler) – who just happen to have once been engaged. Or take sultry, not-too-bright lounge singer Jackie (a dynamite Rachel York) and her tween twins Ben and Lisa (both played with delectable drollness by young Baylee Latrell), who meet up with their unlikely savior, the widowed disaster expert Ted Scheider (played with uber-earnestness by co-author Seth Rudetsky).
These love-to-love-you-babies – and a whole bunch of other funky folk – have been put in harm’s way by the Barracuda’s sleazier-than-sleazy developer Tony Delvecchio (a perfectly cast Roger Bart), who has cut every corner imaginable (and some you can’t even imagine). No wonder it takes just a matter of hours for the boat to capsize (ooh, spoiler alert), which actually turns out to be the least of everybody’s problems.
Fortunately, even when they’re in mortal danger, these lost souls – never mind the audience – can take pleasure in some delightful company, none more so than Tony winner Faith Prince as the good-natured, Pucci-clad, dying-of-cancer matron Shirley and the unbelievably hilarious Jennifer Simard as Sister Mary Downy, a seemingly shy singing nun with a serious yen for the slot machines. There’s no limit to what these women will do, not just for their fellow shipmates, but mostly to get a laugh from all of us.
Equally impressive is how the era’s seminal songs (heard primarily in snippets) have been inserted into the snappy script by Rudetsky and director Jack Plotnick (who paces the proceedings with aplomb). The music is much like the many calamities that befall the unlucky few on the Barracuda – sometimes you see exactly what’s coming, and sometimes you just don’t. And expecting both the expected and the unexpected is part of what gives Disaster! its dizzying, disco-flavored charm.