If the plucky cast of Slow Burn Theatre Co.’s latest production, “Disaster! A 70s Disaster Movie…Musical” was experiencing nerves last week, they surely didn’t let on for the sold-out audience in the Broward Center’s Abdo New River Room.
Never mind their “ship,” a floating casino-slash-disco, was caught up in the shocks of a devastating earthquake, capsized by a massive tidal wave, infested with man-eating piranhas and sharks, and slowly flooding, they had the co-creator of the hit Broadway musical, Seth Rudetsky, in the house. Now that’s pressure and the cast responded with an impressive performance.
A cheeky homage to the signature disaster movie genre of the 1970s—think “Airport,” “Earthquake,” “The Towering Inferno,” and “The Poseidon Adventure” infused with an unmistakable score of disco, pop and adult contemporary hits—“Disaster!” introduces a cast of wacky characters with silly backstories worthy of any of those campy romps:
Chad (Clay Cartland), a lovelorn waiter who encounters the fiancé who abandoned him at the altar, Marianne (Leah Sessa), an investigative reporter seeking to expose the criminal misdeeds of the boat’s shady owner Tony (Ben Sandomir). Then there’s Jackie (Jeanine Gangloff), the “blonde” lounge singer who hopes the fourth time is the charm in Tony, and her sharp-tongued twins, Ben and Lisa (Blake Ferrante).
Sister Mary Downy (Margot Moreland), a nun determined to save souls despite her affinity for slot machines, the sassy Levora (Deidra Grace) and Shirley (Janna Morrison), a dying retiree with nothing to lose, provide comic relief as Professor Ted Scheider (Matthew Korinko) desperately warns the passengers that excessive disco dancing with set off a natural disaster that will send them all to the bottom of the ocean.
Throughout the show, the cast spontaneously bursts into song, ranging from “I Will Survive,” “Saturday Night” and “Never Can Say Goodbye,” to “Still the One,” “Torn Between Two Lovers” and “Muskrat Love.”
Slow Burn casts always feature stunning voices and tonight, under the musical director Michael Ursua, they didn’t disappoint the audience or Rudetsky, who was in town for his Broadway cabaret series at the Parker Playhouse with Tony-winner Rachel Bay Jones (coincidentally, a Boca girl). Rudetsky could be seen nodding his head to the beat every time the music kicked in.
While the entire cast shined, Cartland, a master of physical comedy, took home the gold for his not-so-graceful trip along a suspended beam a la Olympic gymnast Nadia Comenici, to the iconic “Nadia’s Theme.” Moreland also had the audience (and Rudetsky) in stitches as she lamented being “Torn Between Two Lovers.” But it was the teenager Ferrante who won the audience’s hearts with his flawless quick-change act between Ben and Lisa.
Director Patrick Fitzwater milked every laugh out of the book and his sometimes frenetic style of choreography perfectly suited the 70s jukebox score. Kudos also go to Michael McClain, Thomas M. Schorrock, Rich Sczcublewski and Jameelah Bailey, respectively, for set, lights, sound and props design, and especially Rick Pena for all the unforgettable polyester and plaid on the costume rack.
The biggest compliments came after the show when Rudetsky took to the stage to praise the cast and answer questions from the audience.
Slow Burn Theatre Co.’s production of “Disaster! The Musical” moves to the Aventura Arts & Cultural “Center, 3385 NE 188th St., Thursday, Feb. 22 – Sunday, Feb. 25. Tickets start at $20 at AventuraCenter.org.