Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Jukebox musicals (new shows featuring pre-existing songs) often employ parody and deliberate cheesiness in their plot and libretto. Obvious examples would be We Will Rock You and Rock of Ages, and arguably Mama Mia contains more than a faint whiff of gorgonzola. Disaster! takes things several steps further by wildly parodying a film genre ripe for lampooning: specifically the over-blown disaster movies of the 1970s. Every one of these films you can think of seems to be referenced with particular attention to The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno as a luxury floating casino encounters a succession of natural disasters and we follow the survival attempts of the crew and guests, all of whom are clichéd archetypes. Of course, all this mayhem is accompanied by a long list of disco hits.
Earthquakes, tidalwaves and hungry piranhas are not the only threat here: the whole show may be structurally unsound due to the impressive number of scenery-chewing performers who have been assembled for the cast. Roger Bart (The Producers), Faith Prince (Guys &Dolls), Kevin Chamberlin (The Addams Family) and Rachel York (Victor/Victoria) to name but a few. Disaster! is far from subtle and the inspired casting confirms this, but is the soundtrack as wild and crazy as the number of exclamation marks that appear in the sleeve notes suggest?
Things start off well with an amusing rendition of Hot Stuff that manages to establish the plot and several of the characters. Other standouts include Jennifer Simard as a gambling-addicted nun belting out Never Can Say Goodbye (to a slot machine naturally) and Lacretta Nicole summoning good fortune by encouraging the ensemble to Knock on Wood (which leads to the disastrous earthquake). Roger Bart gets his moment in the spotlight with a hysterical (in both senses of the word) rendition of Don’t Cry Out Loud and Faith Prince leads a Morse code themed tap dance to A Fifth of Beethoven. In fact, there is much fun to be had here, and yet there is still a faint tinge of disappointment. As inspired as it was to cast so many over-the-top performers (all of whom no doubt throw themselves into every performance) this soundtrack features very little of the libretto, leading to many of the songs being pretty straight rehashes of the original recording. A good example is Rachel York’s rendition of I Will Survive: York brilliantly delivers it and it is no doubt very funny in context, but here on the soundtrack it just sits as a cover version. Out of a track list of 28, this is pretty much the rule as opposed to the exception.
Robbed of the visuals and with not enough contextual dialogue included, this soundtrack is disappointingly run of the mill. The musicians are fantastic, the songs are obviously great and the concept is sound. But overall this is a surprisingly bland meal which is especially shocking considering how much Broadway ham is in the recipe. That being said, it happily doesn’t live up to its title either.