The past two-plus years have undoubtedly been a disaster in many ways. You can forget all about that with a fun “Disaster!” — a wacky new musical running this weekend and next — at Quad City Music Guild, 1584 34th Ave., Moline.
In an area premiere of the silly homage to 1970s disaster films, “Disaster!” features some of the most unforgettable songs of the ’70s, including “Knock on Wood,” “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Sky High,” “I Am Woman,” and “Hot Stuff.”
It’s 1979 and New York’s hottest A-listers are lining up for the opening of a floating casino and disco. Also attending is a faded disco star, a sexy nightclub singer with her eleven-year-old twins, a disaster expert, a feminist reporter, an older couple with a secret, a pair of young guys who are looking for ladies, an untrustworthy businessman and a nun with a gambling addiction, according to a synopsis.
What begins as a night of boogie fever quickly changes to panic as the ship succumbs to multiple disasters such as earthquakes, tidal waves, and infernos. As the night turns into day, everyone struggles to survive and quite possibly, repair the love that they’ve lost…or at least escape the killer rats.
The show was created by the incomparable Seth Rudetsky, and written by Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick. First productions were in New York in 2012 through 2014, and it opened on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre on March 8, 2016.
“Disaster!” starred Rudetsky, with Roger Bart, Kerry Butler, Kevin Chamberlin, Adam Pascal, Faith Prince, Rachel York, Max Crumm and Jennifer Simard. Baylee Littrell (son of Brian Littrell) and Lacretta Nicole made their Broadway debuts. The show closed after playing 32 previews and 72 regular performances.
A March 2016 review at theatermania.com said: “With shades of The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and even Jaws, Disaster! is a gleefully silly experience that doesn’t purport to be anything but. Though the show does run a bit long and some of the jokes are belabored to the point of exhaustion, it works surprisingly well precisely because it doesn’t take itself seriously even for a second.”
Director and cast revel in joy
Music Guild veteran Dave Blakey is director of the new production, just his second time in that role, after 2019’s “Sister Act.”
Denice Durbin of Coal Valley, in the ensemble, and Brian McKenrick of DeWitt, are both making their Guild debuts in the 25-member cast (out of eight new to Music Guild).
“We’re always wanting new people,” Blakey said recently. “We just had lots of good people come through.”
The main reason he wanted to direct this was he was on the play selection committee, and when he first heard about it, he loved it.
“The music is all classic ’70s songs, and I figured, I grew up in the ’70s, I knew all these songs,” Blakey said. “Especially after coming out of this pandemic, this is a show — we need something light. We don’t want sad. This show, if you don’t laugh at least once, you’ve got something wrong with you.”
McKenrick said the disaster flicks of the ’70s were over the top, and the musical is too, in the best ways.
“The way the dialogue lends itself to the songs, I think that alone is great,” Blakey said. “We have snakes, we have rats, we have sharks, we have a tidal wave, an earthquake, a fire as well.”
The really good set designer is Luke Vermeire. “He’s quite creative,” Blakey said. “There’s just one really big set change during the tidal wave. That’s a tricky one, because we literally turn the ship upside down.”
“It’s amazing what we can do between the dialogue, choreography, the lighting and the sound, can go a long way,” McKenrick said. He plays a waiter, “a quintessential nerd,” he said. “I try to be smooth and pick up ladies, but I have no idea what I am doing, in the most comedic way you can think of.”
The ship is a casino cruise ship, on its maiden voyage, called The Barracuda. (The Heart ’70s song of the same name is not in the show.)
“Like coming home”
Durbin enjoys dancing in “Hot Stuff” and “Saturday Night” in the show, but she doesn’t have dance background.
“I’m a wonderful seat warmer in the audience, secretly wanting to be up there,” she said, noting the choreographer is Guild veteran Christina Myatt.
She works for Black Hawk Area Special Education as pre-school coordinator for 13 school districts. Durbin has done that for 13 years, and prior to that was a preschool teacher. She was in a dance troupe as a United Township High School student.
“My daughter was a professional dancer, who worked for Ballet Quad Cities,” Durbin said. “I was the dance mom and always watched. I always wanted to be up there, but never had the courage to do it. This was an opportunity, because I lived the disco era. It’s like coming home.”
Her favorite ’70s group was Queen, but there are no Queen songs in “Disaster!” She has a 35-year-old son and 37-year-old daughter, and has three grandkids, living in Chicago. Durbin also will perform in this summer’s “Cinderella” at Music Guild.
Full circle from PVHS
McKenrick (who is a Deere & Company paralegal) hasn’t done theater in 20 years, since playing Scarecrow in “Wizard of Oz,” his senior year at Pleasant Valley High School, also working with Christina and Bill Myatt. She did choreography and her husband directed.
“I’ve been thinking of getting back into theater,” McKenrick said, noting his 11-year-old stepdaughter is interested in it. “There was always something going on in life, and finally the stars aligned and this was time to do it. If not now, when? The more I learned about the script, the more I wanted to do it. I’ve always been a huge fan of Dad jokes. This entire show is just Dad jokes, big time. It’s really up my alley.”
He has a two-year-old daughter and “a very supportive wife,” he added. Before COVID, McKenrick was the assistant court administrator for the Seventh Judicial District in eastern Iowa.
The challenge in this show was to learn harmonies that are outside the popular melodies, McKenrick said.
“It’s been fun; I’ve had a really good time with this show,” Blakey said. “There are new people and it’s fun to work with them on a different aspect of the show.”
Durbin and McKenrick said it’s been very helpful having experienced Guild performers in the cast — including Kevin and Valeree Pieper, Melissa Anderson Clark, Mark McGinn, Abbey Donohoe, Stephanie Moeller and Brant Peitersen. Everyone in the cast has been vaccinated and boosted, Blakey said.
Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. April 1, 2, 8 and 9, and 2 p.m. Sundays, April 3 and 10. Tickets are $16 for adults and $11 for children, available HERE or by calling 309-762-6610.