As a child of the 1970s who went to college with Seth Rudetsky, I was prepared to love (or at least enjoy) “Disaster!” at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse, Rock Island.
I did not love “Disaster!” – though its clearly talented, exuberant cast delivers the jukebox musical’s 30-plus iconic songs with tremendous gusto, power and heart.
I would have preferred this cast just simply perform the cavalcade of beloved ‘70s hits in a straight revue format, instead of forcing us to sit through what has got to be the dumbest, most inane “story” I’ve likely seen.
And I get that the whole point of “Disaster!” is that it’s a supremely silly satire, not to be taken seriously in the slightest.
The 2016 Tony-nominated show – also staged this past spring at Quad City Music Guild in Moline – is meant to be a “hilarious” twist on ’70s disaster spectacles such as “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno.”
In the musical (co-written by and originally starring Broadway veteran Rudetsky), a bunch of New York’s hottest A-listers come to the opening of a floating casino and disco. Also attending are a faded disco star, a sexy nightclub singer with her 11-year-old twins, a disaster expert, a feminist reporter, an older couple with a secret, a pair of young guys on the lookout for ladies, an untrustworthy businessman and a nun with a gambling addiction.
The ship succumbs to multiple disasters such as earthquakes, tidal waves and infernos. As “Disaster”‘s night turns into day, everyone struggles to survive and perhaps repair the loves that they’ve lost in this cheeky stage entertainment boasting such well-known era hits as ‘“Knock on Wood,” “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Sky High,” “I Am Woman” and “Hot Stuff.”
** Digression: I am a huge fan of Seth Rudetsky – a piano performance major at Oberlin College, who graduated in 1988, two years after I did. We shared the stage just once, in my senior year’s fantastic production of “1776,” and he went on to be everything I’m not – a pianist for more than a dozen Broadway shows; a blazingly outgoing, funny personality; multimedia host and star (he is an afternoon host on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s “On Broadway”), and proudly gay.
Directed and choreographed here by Amy McCleary, “Disaster!” fits Seth’s personal character to a T: it’s loud, colorful, defiantly unsubtle, and will seemingly do anything for a laugh. It’s also brilliantly musical and affectionately pays tribute to all these great songs, with full-throated style and panache.
Unfortunately (due to the nature of the show), many tunes are presented in brief snippets, for example, “Theme From Mahogany” and “Baby Hold On.”
One very clever reference is in the second act, when we hear Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4,” and understand what the title really means, with the earlier reference to the time being 3:34 a.m. The very next full cast “Sky High” is also an irresistible standout.
It’s all just also so stupid, for reasons too tiresome to elaborate. One being small sharks affixed to the arms of Tristan Tapscott’s Tony (who’s in a bright red suit) for much of the show’s second half, for God knows why.
The uniformly excellent cast also features Bobby Becher, Shelley Walljasper, Thomas J. Besler, Michaela Moore, Brad Hauskins, Savannah Bay Strandin, Erica Bigelow, Jack Carslake, Colin Stansky, Kira Rangel, Natalie Carrera, Quinn Cason and Kiera Lynn (who subbed for an injured Ashley Becher in the Aug. 3 evening performance I saw).
An all-too-rare, genuinely funny number is “When Will I Be Loved,” where Strandin’s Jackie belts out the Linda Ronstadt hit as a super spunky Jack Carslake (who’s going into 8th grade) alternates as the twins Ben and Lisa, with the help of a wig that dashes on and off.
I particularly enjoyed Bobby Becher and Kira Rangel in their very strong songs, such as “Without You” and “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” for him, and “Knock on Wood” and “Come to Me” for her.
After the entire show was sidelined for over a week due to a COVID outbreak in the cast, it’s also admirable to see the impressive energy of the performers. We’ve all had to endure too many disasters, so this “Disaster!” is far more preferable.
The show will run at Circa (1828 3rd Ave., Rock Island) through Sept. 10. For tickets or more information, call 309-786-7733, ext. 2 or visit the theater website.