Filichia Features: A Delight of a Disaster!

Filichia Features: A Delight of a Disaster!

By Peter Filichia on September 15, 2017

 

Does your theater only do weekend performances?

If so, your audience consists of people who've worked hard all week long. Now they just want to relax, laugh and not see The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

They'll enjoy Disaster! -- the Broadway musical that spoofs those '70s catastrophe movies, especially The Poseidon Adventure and Earthquake.

No, the Pulitzer committee probably didn't consider Disaster! for their drama prize. But if your audience is anything like last Friday night's at the Somerset Valley Players in Hillsborough, New Jersey, you'll have a smash hit.

Disaster! gives an entirely new meaning to Theatre of the Absurd -- and an arguably more entertaining one. It's an excellent show for community theater performers, for everyone gets a nice part. To wit:

  • Tony, the oily owner of the new casino ship, the S.S. Barracuda. He's bribed many inspectors to keep them mum on his many code violations.
  • Marianne, the Times reporter who's heard about the infractions and has come to investigate.
  • Chad, the man she left at the altar. He's a waiter now, for he's stopped creating games that he couldn't sell to any company.
  • Levora, the black blues singer whose career has been sinking faster than the Titanic. Her only remaining friend is a dog (a stuffed one, you'll be glad to hear).

Happy endings are in store for most, but no disaster story avoids casualties. Never mind; to turn a John Donne sentiment on its ear, here it's a case of "Death be not serious."

Maury and Shirley are the oh-so-devoted married couple who'll be separated by death. Well, Shirley's days are numbered, anyway, as she tells us, but not until three symptoms appear.

Of course the writers made them hysterical ones. Tracey Fama did pelvic thrusts that would be the envy of those who ever sprang from their theater seats and did "The Time Warp."

There's a singing nun who wants to prevent everyone from gambling. But even she and Professor Scheider, who predicts an earthquake, can't rain on the passengers' parade - at least not until the end of the first act.

Considering that every disaster movie has included a vulnerable child, the authors provided twice as many hand-wringing possibilities by creating fraternal twins Lisa and Ben (the offspring of the much-married Jackie, the ship's lounge singer).

The pair is played by the same performer, so your pre-teen must be as marvelous as the lad Baylee Littrell was on Broadway or as the lass Olivia Ringel was here. The brave girl had her hair cut to resemble a boy's, which took care of Ben, but what about Lisa? As on Broadway, a baseball cap with pigtails sewn underneath was employed. Ringel took it on and off with the ease she showed seguing between alto and soprano.

To cement their show in the '70s, the authors borrowed established pop hits from that decade. They must have spent hundreds of hours poring over every word of every song to find new meanings and puns. From Scene One we see their success: Tony tells his chef not to merely offer the passengers cold hors d'ouevres, for he wants them to enjoy some "Hot stuff, baby, tonight."

Sister Mary laments that she's "Torn between Two Lovers." Don't infer that one's Jesus and the other's a person; the second "lover" is a slot machine. Lynda Dickson suggested that if she'd had the chance that Tony-nominee Jennifer Simard got, she'd have received a nomination as well.

For decades, "Feelings" has been a joke for its over-the-top sentimentality, but the authors cleverly managed to get one more laugh out of it. "(Once, Twice,) Three Times a Lady" doesn't refer to a woman herself but to a trio of her dismembered body parts.

The audience loved hearing pop songs of yore shoehorned into the purposely silly plot. Perhaps one reason why the Somerset actors were so good is that they'd had a head start with songs they had heard so much in their youth. If they didn't know the lyrics, they might have boned up on them by taking out their old LPs and older turntables.

Tell your techies that they'll be especially busy during intermission. Act Two must show the ravages of that earthquake, so the set needs to become distressed with cracks on walls and bisected baccarat tables. Other crew members must dirty everyone's face and legs.

A glitter ball is de rigueur. Get out those nautical life-savers that you used in Anything Goes. There isn't much choreography, but a tap-number is a must.

Virtually everyone was superb, which is a credit to director Laurie Wood, who knew how to precisely put the right person in each role. And you know community theater: Wood designed the costumes too, which looked like the "creative festive wear" one wears to fun parties. If two jobs weren't arduous enough, Wood also collaborated with Victor Nieves on the simple unit set. Two flats, painted in quintessential '70s colors -- pink, fuchsia, lavender, orange and purple -- buttressed an opening where the words "Casino" and "Coral Bliss Café" told us where we were on the ship.

The earthquake caused the "C" on "Coral" to fall off, which gave the audience a good giggle. Most all night, though, theatergoers were laughing far harder than that. They threw back their heads in such explosive laughter that many the next morning may have gone on line to purchase whiplash collars. Even between scenes when sets were changed, laughter still rippled through the house as the playgoers continued to savor the just-experienced gag.

They even laughed at the Jersey joke that ended the show. These Garden Staters weren't offended because by then they were in too good a mood. Productions, including yours, will continue the mirth to be spread far beyond the Hudson.

You may e-mail Peter at pfilichia@aol.com. Check out his weekly column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and Tuesday at www.masterworksbroadway.com. His book, The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.