By Anne-Allegra Bennett (@aab_artiste)
The disco world of the seventies was recently brought back to life in the jukebox musical, “Disaster!” at the Nederlander Theater. Featuring some of the best great hits of the decade and a stellar cast of Broadway personalities, the show was a parody and tribute to disaster films of the 1970s. With memorable music and over the top characters, the album itself captures the essence of the show and the energy it brought to the stage until it closed on May 8, 2016.
”Disaster!” is an example of a musical that flows from number to number, and the entire cast plays a crucial role in telling the story. This translates nicely into the album as each song tells a story. Each performer contributes a unique quality to the show, and they are each showcased on the album (artfully produced by Broadway Records) with their special moments.
It is full of star worthy performances by some of Broadway’s most talented performers.
The musical numbers in “Disaster!” not only captured the spirit of the seventies, but were chosen to help tell the story as the characters experienced the disasters seen in the films they were parodying. As a jukebox musical, “Disaster!” had the challenge of maintaining a clear storyline, while also providing entertainment and a new look at the songs that are familiar to many. Previously recorded by the artists who made the songs famous, the cast of “Disaster!” had the task of putting their own twist on the music while simultaneously having it fit their character’s personalities. The album was recorded by the original cast members, and it joyfully captures the intention of the production.
As the perfect introduction to meeting each individual, “Hot Stuff” is creative in how it plays with the lyrics to adapt to each character. Interspersed with quick dialogue, the references are clear, and it’s a strong start in getting to know the voices and personalities. The music begins with a strong beat full of rhythm, and it’s a smooth lead-in to the vocals. It really plays with the sounds of the seventies, and the vocals come across as being strong and unique. With music and lyrics by Peter Bellotte, Harold Faltermeyer and Keith Forsey, “Hot Stuff” is a classic reflection of a classic hit from that era.
Jennifer Simard is charming and hilarious as the character of Sister Mary Downy, and her first song “The Lord’s Prayer” by Albert Hay Malotte has a nice electric sounding twang sound come through the music as she sings the lyrics with a distinct staccato rhythm. The strumming of the guitar throughout is a solid reminder of how strong the beat is at any time. A traditional song with a twist as the recording plays around with giving it distinction as based on the personality. Simard also shows her vocal strength in the mashup of “Never Can Say Goodbye” (music and lyrics by Clifton Davis), and “Torn Between Two Lovers” (music and lyrics by Phillip Jarrell and Peter Yarrow). Her agility comes through in the vocals, and she adds a smooth quality to the music. The horns in the music bring out the various nuances.
“Knock on Wood” is the perfect number to showcase the performers as backup singers and highlight Lacretta Nicole as Levora in her Broadway debut. With music and lyrics by Stephen Lee Cropper and Eddie Floyd, it comes across at points as a call and response. The rhythms and melody bring out the disco elements, and the sounds of knocking and rolling rhythms keep it upbeat and lively. Nicole proves her range as she sings Tony Green’s “Come To Me” as an uptempo ballad. It’s utilized as a way to find her dog, but remains full of earnest emotion and determination with Simard’s character offering supporting back-up vocals.
Kerry Butler as Marianne and Adam Pascal as Chad sing a beautiful duet in Parker McGee’s “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.” A sweet and slow number, the two characters show their love for one another, and it comes across in the music as they express their feelings. The music is soothing and elegant as it lifts them up. Their voices are peaceful and melodic, and the song’s tempo offers a change of pace from the majority of the songs in the album.
There are many standout performances, and as the hired singer on the floating casino, Jackie played by Rachel York is given two of the most rousing numbers in the show. “Saturday Night” with music and lyrics by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, and “I Will Survive” by Dino Fekaris and Freddie Perren. These numbers are classic examples of the music of the decade to which they play homage, and their upbeat rhythms make one want to get up and dance.
Additional featured performances by Faith Prince, Seth Rudetsky, Roger Bart, Kevin Chamberlin, Baylee Littrell (in dual roles), and Max Crumm are also highly entertaining and provide some hilarious, endearing, and engaging moments. Prince as Shirley leads a morse code tap dance to “A Fifth of Beethoven,” and Bart belts out to the tune of “Don’t Cry Out Loud” with hysterical character and devotion. Rudetsky finds himself to be the echo to York’s character Jackie in the song “Mockingbird,” and Littrell sings a touching song as Lisa to “Ben.” Prince and Chamberlin as Shirley and Maury realize that their love for one another is still strong, and their duet “You’re Still The One” is quite moving and symbolic of how strong their love is for one another.
“25 or 6 to 4” (music and lyrics by Robert Lamm), “Sky High” (music and lyrics by Desmond Dyer and Clive Kenneth Scott), “Daybreak” (music and lyrics by Barry Manilow and Adrienne Anderson), and “Hooked on A Feeling” (music and lyrics by Mark James) are some of the great ensemble numbers that represent the cast working together to create fabulous harmonies and pull out the energy that helps bring the album to life. A fun and engaging album that brings out some of the greatest songs of that colorful decade.
The album is quite enjoyable and carries over from the show well. Each song works without the need of having the visual moment from the stage, and there are many catchy songs that will keep one dancing and moving to the beat. Each artist put their heart and soul into the work; it came across in their performances and now on the album. Each moment is clear and well-configured to bring out its best qualities. An album well worth taking the time to listen to and appreciate.