A motley band of misfits struggle to survive to the hits of Summer, Simon and Manilow in the hysterical ‘Disaster!’ (Photo courtesy Mike Morgan)

Dancing, danger and drollery in Uptown Players’ best spoof in years

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Executive Editor
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Ah, the 1970s, when disco was still king, bell-bottoms were considered cool and nobody had heard of a mobile telephone. Some might say the fashion, the music, the politics, the whole culture was a disaster… which may explain why disaster films — starting with 1970’s Airport (hijacker) and continuing through The Poseidon Adventure (tidal wave), The Towering Inferno (fire), Earthquake, The Swarm, Meteor, When Time Ran Out (volcano) and a host of other films dominated at the box office. They were our superhero movies, all-star extravaganzas that, as cheesily enjoyable as they were at the time, haven’t exactly held up.

Except in Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick’s musical Disaster!, now onstage at the Kalita courtesy of Uptown Players, which does send-up with spectacular success.

All the tropes are there: The builder (Greg Hullett) who cut corners on safety; the scientist (Josh Bangle) who rings the alarm of danger as man disregards nature’s warning signs; the couple (Linda Leonard, Randy Pearlman) finally ready to retire; the famous singer (Chimberley Carter Byrom) who’s secretly on the skids; the single mom (Cara Statham Serber) who’s hooked up with the wrong guy. Rather than feeling like bad ideas conspiring together, though, Disaster is a potluck stew, seasoned perfectly.

Like all great spoofs, the comedy works best when everyone in the cast realizes that overacting is all but impossible, and holding a straight face in the presence of insanity only makes the laughs harder. Kyle Igneczi leads the way on that score as the horny but heroic Kyle Rubik, a player who still carries a torch for the woman who ditched him at the altar (Alyssa Cavazos). Leonard, almost unrecognizable under a frumpy wig, gets to twitch and thrust and tap-dance her way through fatal symptoms as a woman possessed. Nevertheless, her duet with Pearlman to the bubbly hit “Still the One” ends up being both campy and touching.

But even they can’t hold a candle to the explosive dynamite of Laura Lites and Quin Solley. Lites, as repressed nun Sister Mary Downy finds herself tempted by the allure of gambling — a temptation to which she eventually succumbs. Lites gyrates and writhes against a slot machine to the strains of “Never Can Say Goodbye,” mugging with such total abandon that the audience burst into a frenzy on opening night. Solley plays 9-year-old Ben and his twin sister Lisa with little more than the addition of a baseball cap with braids, yet there’s so much more to the performance than it sounds. Solley toggles between the characters even when a rag doll onstage serves as a placeholder for the other twin. If Lites is channeling Carol Burnett, Solley’s muse is Tim Conway.

The fake doll is only one of the sly jabs at the ridiculousness of it all that really helps sell Disaster as parody and not just a poorly-executed jukebox musical. It is precisely the things that don’t go right that make the whole thing work. Director B.J. Cleveland hits all the bits head-on, not missing a single visual gag or cliche that can be turned upside down. Yet within the construct of the show, he also delivers a slick production, with energetic and engaging choreography by Trevor Wright.

And of course there are the songs — wonderful/awful hits shoehorned brilliantly into the plot, among them Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff,” “Saturday Night,” “Sky High,” “Three Times a Lady” and (as an old K-Tel ad might have promised) many, many more. You’ll be toe-tapping with nostalgia… or perhaps realizing that when it comes to disasters, the ’70s were nothing compared to today.