Review: Disaster!

Odra Chapman (l) and Brenda Williams in Disaster!   Photo by James Michael Avance

By Larry Laneer
June 17, 2019

Anyone who titles a musical Disaster! is asking for it. But Pollard Theatre Company’s production of that show is anything but a disaster. That’s certainly not to say it’s a great show.

The show’s creators—Seth Rudetsky, Jack Plotnick, and Drew Geraci—were inspired by disaster motion pictures of the last century (think Earthquake or The Towering Inferno). But they spoof the genre, which is ripe for spoofing, with an inane jukebox musical.

The show has no original music. The score consists of 30 songs of the period, or, at least, a few bars of them. The songs’ tenuous or contrived connection to the story will more likely induce eyerolling than admiration.

The Pollard program doesn’t help with this information, but the show is set on a casino ship moored in New York City in 1979. The tawdry, poorly constructed, rat-infested casino looks like it could have been built by Donald Trump. A “disaster expert” ascertains an earthquake is imminent, and the shoddy casino ship won’t survive it. Then, after some harrowing experiences, everyone (well, almost everyone) survives to sing and dance the finale. The show makes 1979 look like ancient history. One character orders a Fresca, and another smokes on an elevator.

Disaster! tests the proven abilities of sure-handed director and choreographer Matthew Sipress Banks. The show needs an over-the-top production, and Sipress Banks has given it an as over-the-top production as Pollard probably can stage. But he is working with highly inferior material here.

Regardless, the production features some appealing performances. With pros like Charlie Monnot, Matthew Alvin Brown, Brenda Williams, and De’Vin Lewis, the show should have something going for it. In her debut, Odra Chapman plays a conflicted nun and makes theatergoers want to see her in other, more substantial roles. She enlivens every scene in which she appears without scenery chewing or mugging. Erin Heatly plays 11-year-old twins, Lisa and Ben, with impish precociousness. The scene where both twins sing a song with their mother is not new, but Heatly does it with hustling charm. Williams seems constantly on the verge of turning into Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure. The character is obviously based on Winters in that picture.

The production’s design reflects the artistic level of the show. With many scene changes, W. Jerome Stevenson’s scenic design keeps the action moving. Michael James’s costumes achieve period accuracy. The cheap, or cheap-looking, props by Timothy Stewart fit the overall concept of the production.

A five-piece, heavily synthesized combo accompanies the show. The score includes many of the biggest hits of the period, so compared to the originals, the songs in this production sound like versions done by hopeful cover bands.

The Pollard production in no way resembles a disaster. The show is more of a speedbump, a trifle that slows you down.

Disaster! by Seth Rudetsky, Jack Plotnick, and Drew Geraci
Pollard Theatre Company
8:00 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. Sundays, through June 29
Pollard Theatre
120 W. Harrison Ave., Guthrie
$30 with discounts for students, military, and seniors
405-282-2800