“Disaster, the Musical!” is anything but in its current incarnation at Cockpit-In-Court. Whatever the opposite of disaster is by definition, this is it. Cockpit has kicked off their 2019 Summer Season with a flat-out, unqualified, laugh-till-you’re-sick good time.
Seth Rudesky and Jack Plotnick wrote the book, with most of the hitmakers of the 70s supplying the lyrics and music. Intended as a send-up of the disaster genre of movies popularized in the 70s, the surprisingly well-crafted plot opens in 1979, at the launch of a floating disco casino on the Hudson River.
Go, see, hear, laugh and enjoy every rollicking mishap!
With a mix of stock characters from the typical disaster movies of the day, the writers managed to include a good representation of most of the standards. You have the Shelly Winters character and husband (right out of ‘Poseidon Adventure’), the pair of waiters (one cute, one nerdy), the lounge singer with kids, the earnest young female reporter hot on the trail of the corrupt developer, the down on her luck disco diva, the bookish professor and – straight out of ‘Airport!,’ the guitar-strumming nun. In addition to ‘Airport!’ and ‘Poseidon,’ other disaster entries include, rats (‘Ben’), earthquakes, floods and fires (‘Towering Inferno.’)
Woven through the disaster action is a veritable songbook of the seventies, with way too many songs to mention. Some of the plotlines are so tortured in order to accommodate the music that it was literally groan-inducing but in a good way. Anyone old enough to recognize the songs or the hokey plot devices was having way too good a time to worry much about anything like believability.
Todd Pearthree has been a fixture on the Baltimore musical theatre scene for years and has a well-deserved reputation for delivering quality entertainment. In addition to directing with his trademark professionalism, he choreographs this one with a salute to the disco moves that complemented the music perfectly. Michael DeVito does his usual yeoman’s job as Music Director, leading the talented cast and superb orchestra with finesse. The minimalist set with some clever special effects is designed by Michael Rasinski which is nicely lit by Thomas Gardner. Period worthy costumes were created by Wil Crother and watching them actually get dirtier and more authentic looking with each scene was great fun.
The large ensemble sings and dances together extremely like seasoned pros. The well-choreographed dance numbers are quirky and fun and performed with a level of energy that never lets up, especially in the big numbers like the opening Hot Stuff and the act one closer, Knock on Wood. The entire cast is outstanding and there is nary a weak link in the lineup. Which makes it really hard to review because I want to single out every song, every joke, every cheesy tongue in cheek sight gag.
Of particular note, though, let’s go with John Andrew, playing Scott, the nerdy waiter, Brian Jacobs as Professor Ted Scheider, and Jeff Burch as Maury. Great job, guys. Special mention and shout out to Liam Hamilton as Ben AND Lisa cause he’s adorable, and Liz Boyer Hunnicutt as Shirley because she’s a friggin’ force of nature and she does a tap number that saves the cute couple. Nancy Parrish Asendorf as Jackie has some fine moments, particularly when she sings Mockingbird and even when she sings (for no apparent reason) Muskrat Love. Don’t ask – just enjoy her fine voice. Darren McDonnell is delightfully sleazy as the shady developer Tony and I wish he had been able to sing more of Don’t Cry Out Loud but probably just as well because we might have forgotten that he was basically a slimeball.
Area audiences will remember Rikki Howie Lacewell as Delores Van Cartier in a previous season’s “Sister Act” on this same stage. Her take on Levora Verona as a broke but not broken former disco star is rather similar and that is a wonderful thing because she nails that character. With a voice that rivals any of the stars of the 70s or today, Rikki knows how to deliver, and from her power-puff afro to her platform shoes, she is right-on, sister!
Shane Lowry and Carly J. Amato are the two love interests. Both are easy on the eye and even easier on the ear. Shane shines brightest when singing Without You and is a fine dancer. Carly is pitch-perfect when she sings I Am Woman, and they are both terrific together when crooning Baby Hold On to Me. These two stars are destined to play leading man and lady for some time to come and I look forward to every outing.
But I have to give best in show to Lisa Pastella for her portrayal as Sister Mary Downey. Her physical characterization reminded me of the Saturday Night Live character Mary Catherine, only way funnier. With her dead-pan delivery and some of the funniest lines in a hilarious script, she steals the night with her rendition of Never Can Say Goodbye. Sung to a one-armed bandit slot machine, she wriggles and writhes, tiptoes and slithers all over and around it while belting out the vocals so expertly that I was quivering with laughter and joy.
For those of my generation who remember when these were top 40 hits and first-run movies playing in the theatres on sultry summer nights, revisiting those times via this hysterical riff on the period was so much fun that it is a perfect antidote to whatever ills may have been visited upon you. Go, see, hear, laugh and enjoy every rollicking mishap!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one intermission.
“Disaster!” runs through June 30th, 2019 on the CCBC Essex Campus at 7201 Rossville Blvd, Rosedale, MD 21237. Call 443.840.2787 or online.