Lace up your platform shoes, slip into your bell-bottoms, and grab a disco ball for luck, ’cause you’ll certainly need it to protect yourself during the new 1970s musical comedy, Disaster!
The show, which is set to begin previews at the Nederlander Theatre February 9, is a family affair of sorts. The musical stars cowriter Seth Rudetsky opposite a handful of his friends and New York theater favorites, including Tony winners Faith Prince and Roger Bart — not to mention Adam Pascal, Kerry Butler, Rachel York, and Kevin Chamberlin.
Set to a jukebox score of ’70s classics, Rudetsky and his cowriter-director pal Jack Plotnick originally created Disaster! for a benefit. The musical later morphed into a full-on production and played Off-Broadway at The Triad and St. Luke’s Theatre in 2012 and 2013.
“Half of the show was written with me on the treadmill and Stairmaster at the gym . . . and I would hear a song and be like, I love the ’70s! And I would say, ‘I have to have this song in the show!’” Rudetsky explained.
He adds that the show is a nod to disaster movies from that “funky” time period. In it, the renaissance theater guru plays Dr. Ted Scheider.
“My character’s focus is on saving people — I had a wife who died in a volcanic explosion — and when that happened, I shut down emotionally, and I just focus on disasters. And over the course of the evening, I help with the disasters but I learn to have emotions again.”
Sticking to the idea that Disaster! is basically a party for Seth Rudetsky and all his friends, NY1 entertainment reporter Frank DiLella caught up with the writer/performer and asked him to dish about his costars — and even explore potential disaster situations and how to be rescued!
Frank DiLella: Kerry Butler. Go.
Seth Rudetsky: I met Kerry at a children’s nightclub in the ’80s. It was Sarah Jessica Parker and all these kids from Evita, Peter Pan, and Annie, and then kids who had never been on Broadway, like me and Kerry Butler, who were in the “loser area.” It was a cabaret with just kids — we got paid in ice cream — because it was a dessert nightclub and we performed on the weekends — and people actually came to see it! And Sarah Jessica Parker and I would smoke cigarettes downstairs because we were the “older kids.” She was 16 and I was 14.
Frank: Seth, if you were in a disastrous situation with Kerry Butler, what would it be and how would she save you?
Seth: If I was in a Disney theme park and I had no money on me, Kerry would save me because she’s crazy Disney-obsessed and goes 12 times a year and probably knows every single Disney trick to sneak you into a Disney theme park because she’s a psycho Disney person. Kerry is a Disney princess. She is one in real life, she played one in Beauty and the Beast, and she never ages and she is still the same size 0.
Frank: Faith Prince.
Seth: I met Faith in group therapy. I walked in and thought, I just saw her in Falsettoland on stage, and I tried to play it cool. And I knew who she was and I started seeing her every Monday for 10 years. Faith is old-school. She is a very old-school performer, that’s why she was so good in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. She’s from the Golden Age — kind of like, born 40 years too late — and that’s why I thought of her for the role of Shirley in Disaster! It’s one of those roles that back in the day, it’s a part that Merman or Channing would play, like, “I sing, I do comedy and I even dance!”
Frank: If you were in a disastrous situation with Faith, what would it be, and how would she save you?
Seth: If we were trapped in a building on fire, Faith would save me because she would hit one of her crazy piercing Cs and shatter the glass, like, because she’s pre-microphones. Like YEAHHHHHHHHHHH.
Frank: Adam Pascal.
Seth: I met Adam when he was on my “Chatterbox Show” with Sherie Rene Scott when they were doing Aida in 2000. I have the photo of the three of us from the show: It looks like one Jew and two gorgeous von Trapp children. It’s the blond and blonde and me. But, of course, the irony is, Adam is Jewish. The first thing I think of when it comes to Adam is Adam in my apartment, barefoot, hitting a high C when we were rehearsing the Chess concert. It was early in the morning and I was like, “Adam, just mark it.” And he went on to hit this crazy high C! I was like, “You have a freak voice.” He talks like a man but sings like a woman, but still sounds like a man hitting those notes, and always sounds like he’s just getting over being sick. And yet he can still hit those notes! I don’t get it!
Frank: If you were in a disastrous situation with Adam, what would it be, and how would he save you?
Seth: If I was in a flood, Adam would save me because he would lie down and float and I would sit on his pecs and be 2 feet above the water.
Frank: Roger Bart and Kevin Chamberlin.
Seth: I met Roger in the ’90s doing a “Chatterbox” with him and his college best friend, Kevin Chamberlin. They came and did a “Chatterbox” about Triumph of Love — they were both starring in it at the time. I was supposed to take over as the conductor for the show, so I met them around that time period. But the show closed! Roger is hilarious; any line he says is just so funny. Also, he’s dog-like — he was so good as Snoopy in Charlie Brown — he just understands it. He’s literally a clown — like, whatever line you give him, it’s hilarious! The first thing I think of when it comes to Kevin? He’s my doppelgänger: Not only is his real first name Seth, but he’s also an excellent pianist.
Frank: How about disaster situations with both?
Seth: If I was in a blackout with Roger Bart, there’s obviously always a lot of looting, so Roger would save me from big gangs because he would hit everyone with his Tony Award! If I was in any kind of disaster with Kevin — be it tornado, hurricane, flood — he would save us because he would blow his secret “Jessie” whistle and 800,000 children would come flying toward him and we would be saved! He’s the Pied Piper of preadolescent brats. Kids are obsessed with his TV show Jessie!
Frank: Finally — last, but certainly not least — Rachel York.
Seth: The first time I met Rachel was in the early ’90s. I was playing piano for the Sondheim show Putting It Together. I was obsessed with her performance. I could not believe that: How could someone be that beautiful and that hilarious? It’s shocking to me. When I think of Rachel, I think of the big laughs she got in Victor/Victoria. Rachel as Norma! I had done a lot of Broadway shows at that point and I had never encountered what it was like because I was in the orchestra, and to hear an entire theatre laugh that hard — it was thrilling to be a part of that. Every single line she said was scientifically comedic. She so understood the comedy of it, and I’d never heard a theatre laugh that hard before.
Frank: And a disaster situation with Rachel? What would it be and how would she save you?
Seth: Rachel’s a tough one. If I was in a situation where everyone is supposed to die in a disaster, I would say, “No! Someone always lives!” And obviously today is Opposite Day — so I would live!