“Did you think I’d crumble? Did you think I’d lay down and die?! Oh, no, not I! I WILL Survive! Just as long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive!”
Such formidable advice is lyrically imparted by sultry Songstress “Jackie Noelle” at a critical point in the ‘Regional Premiere’ of “Disaster! The Musical”, and it succinctly sums up the fundamental premise in this, the inaugural offering of “One More Productions” exciting 15th Season. Housed at the landmark “Gem Theatre” in Garden Grove California, the Award-Winning Musical Production Company is transporting audiences back to the glitzy, glossy, gaudy and bawdy ‘Me Decade-ent Days’ of the late 1970’s, with this no-holds-barred “Tribute” (née “Send-Up”) of all those terrific old ‘star-studded”, “Disaster Movies”, when the likes of “Earthquake”, “The Poseidon Adventure”, “The Towering Inferno” and even “Piranha” dominated Theater Marquees! Directed by “One More Production’s” Co-Founder, Damien Lorton, (who also serves as the Musical Director,) the book is by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick (from a concept by Rudetsky and Drew Geraci, with additional material by Geraci.) With a selection of Top 40 Hits as widely varied as those from Diana Ross, James Taylor and Carly Simon, Helen Reddy, Donna Summer (–of course) Barry Manilow, “The Captain And Tennille”, and–wait for it: “The Bay City Rollers”, the score sounds like a turned-on, tuned-in playlist from a junior high-school dance circa 1978. So what if it sound like a touch on the cheesy side though?! It’s all Grade-A Gourmet Cheese, and stands as ‘one more’ magnificent “Milestone” for “One More Productions”!
Deemed by many as Orange County’s “little theater company that could”, with this Premiere, “One More Productions” affirms all over again that they are the theater company that DOES (—and in a big way!) “Rather than a ‘community’ theater’,” Lorton observed on opening night, “we consider ourselves a ‘theater of our ‘community’,” further reflecting on how he and business partner Nicole Cassesso literally staged productions on a patio fifteen years ago. On that already distinguished evening, ticket holders attended a Gala Pre-show champagne reception with the cast which included intermission desserts such as doughnuts decorated up like big, tasty Life-Preservers and Cookies shaped like shark fins. Joining everyone were the evening’s very special guests: the show’s creators, Jack Plotnick and Seth Rudetsky, and original Broadway Cast-members, Adam Pascal (Chad Rubik) and Kevin Chamberlin (Maury Winters.) After the show, First-Nighters were invited to stay for a special “talk back” session with the four wherein Rudetsky revealed that his initial idea for the show stemmed from an old novelty “song’ back in 1975 called “Mr. Jaws”. One of a series of “stylized” recordings which blended bits of music ‘sampling’ from various hit-singles of the day, incorporated to serve as off-beat “answers” to a satiric news interview–this one built around the topic of that summer’s number-one Blockbuster, “Jaws”. Describing how he had always been a fan of the “Disaster” genre, Seth went on to explain that he was eventually encouraged to write a musical based on this very distinctive style of motion picture—but instead of just focusing on one film or “disaster”, he wanted to spoof ALL of them; thus, the markedly ‘pastiche’ nature of Rudetsky and Plotnick’s book which winks at many of these Big-Screen exploits, but never out-and-out ‘steals’ from any of them, resulting in an entirely—and an enthrallingly–new work that has the laughs coming one right after the other. Living on two different coasts, the two also divulged how they virtually wrote the script “over the phone”. As for the Production they’d just seen at “The Gem”, both even credited Lorton with adding some improvements to the show’s staging, while enhancing quite a few of the laughs in the process.
Staying true to the standard form of all those “Disaster” Mega-hits that so entranced the movie-going public back in that cinematic free-for-all that were the late 1970’s, much of the action unfolds in small vignettes balanced between numerous ‘colorful’ characters and several plot-lines. As the narrative moves forward incrementally, the emphasis alternates amongst each one to propel the plot before eventually converging once inevitable havoc strikes. Donna Summer’s libidinous anthem “Hot Love” serves in place of a formal overture, while setting the scene of who we’ll be following, what they’ll be experiencing and what it’s like when they do. Many of the songs chosen serve as larger ‘punch lines’ to quips and situations they supposedly ‘comment on”. Such examples include “Sister Mary’s” breaking into verses of “Never Can Say Goodbye” when she is (reluctantly) compelled to pull away from the giant Slot-Machine that has so enraptured her, or when “Chad”, in trying to save his former flame “Marianne” from amongst the wreckage, belts out the most assuring stanzas of “Baby Hold Onto Me”. Arguably though, the cleverest of these musical puns occurs in Act Two, when the devastated Tony asks what time it is and the disgruntled chorus carol forth the hour as: “Twenty-Five Or Six To Four”. Hearing these—and in the context they’ve been utilized here–makes one stunningly aware of how outlandish many of them were in the first place (“Muskrat Love”—REALLY?!) However, for all their genial ‘goofiness’, all the numbers are honestly toe-tapping.
The year is 1979, in Manhattan Harbor on opening night of “The Barracuda”–the first and largest floating casino and most ‘Outa Sight, Dyn-O-Mite’ Discothèque on the East Coast. Gathering to carouse and cruise one another (in the way that has zero to do with any ocean), the invited throng, (and a few gate-crashers) mix, mingle, gamble and “shake-shake-shake their booty”, blissfully unaware of any impending adversity, to say nothing of the ship’s utter lack of safety measures thanks to the arrogance of owner, “Tony Delvecchio” (who even has two “piranha fish” named “Seth” and “Jack”–that will later emerge in a far more ‘predatory’ role!) “Tony’s” chief headliner is his on-again, off-again ‘inamorata’, the glamorous, “Jackie Noelle” who is also the single mother of precocious twins, “Ben” and “Lisa”. Right before the casino opens its doors, Geologist “Professor Ted Scheider” bursts in to warn “Tony” that the kind of “Hot Stuff” they should be most concerned with isn’t the sexually-charged atmosphere its proprietor hopes his establishment will stimulate, but rather volcanic magma (like from the earth’s hyper-heated core!) because his vessel rests directly over an active “fault-line”, (which causes several tremors throughout the proceedings.) Complicating things even more is the arrival of investigative journalist, “Ms. Marianne Wilson”–who once left one of the club’s dashing bartenders, “Chad Rubik” at the altar.
Throw in a fast-fading Disco Diva, “Levora Verona” (who’s so broke she even has to stiff the cab driver who drops her off at the Casino) and a genial older couple, “Maury and Shirley Winters”—the latter of whom is harboring a “fatal” secret from her husband. There’s even a Guitar playing Nun (à la “Helen Reddy” in “Airport 75”) named “Sister Mary Downey, who hides a not-so-controlled Gambling Addiction that has her singing love songs to an over-sized Slot machine! As the evening progresses, the shaking that’s continually going on has nothing to do with anyone’s ‘groove thing” until the “Big One” finally assails them with maximum force. Afterward, the wounded and disheveled “survivors” of the Earthquake and Tidal Wave that follows (along with all the related infernos, shark and piranha attacks, and rat infestations,) band together to confront “Tony” that, due to all cost-cutting measures (fire exits and life preservers among them,) when it comes to their trust, he’s “Blown It All Sky High”: “Stop! You’ve blown it all Sky High! By telling me a lie–Without a reason why, you’ve blown it all Sky Hiiiiiigh!” By the time those who endure (–the way some always do in these things,) reach the “Curtain Calls”, we’re treated to series of quick but spirited reprises of the show’s best numbers staged in rapid succession (like “The Ike And Tina Turner Revue” when it first hit Vegas) that has the full company dancing in the aisles! (This closing ‘Mega-Mix’ of reprises, we’re informed, was added just for this particular production!)
Tom Patrick portrays Casino/Disco/Ship Mogul, and all around “Big Shot”, “Tony Delvecchio as a Burt Reynolds Redux, with the best and burliest moustache this side of the Leather-clad Biker from “The Village People”! Once the watery cataclysm ensues, “Tony” tries to do the right thing and “take charge” (–losing half of his macho ‘Stache in the process–) which gives rise to plenty of spot-on parodies of “The Poseidon Adventure” not to mention getting saddled with two sharks gnawing on his arms (Yes, even “Jaws” is represented here!) His two major descants are of that brand of “suggestive” latter-day “folk rock” the 70’s were similarly renowned for, bitingly epitomized when he serenades us with “Do You Want To Make Love (Or Do You Just Want To Fool Around?)” and subsequently, Melissa Manchester’s over-emotive tone-poem, “Don’t Cry Out Loud”. Likewise, as the recently widowed Geologist “Professor Ted Scheider”, Tad Fujioka too, is a legitimate wonder, having stepped into this key role a scant thirty-eight hours before opening (the actor cast having suddenly been taken ill.) In doing so, he adds another thoroughly winning accomplishment to those he’s achieved on “The Gem Stage”. “Ted’s” preliminary number doesn’t come until a bit later in the first act, but when it does—in the form of the opening verses of “Feelings”, he (and the number itself) translates into one of the show’s Gold-Medal highlights, once “Marianne” and “Chad” also join in (making for a definite “Titanic” trio!) Tad commendably comes through again late in the proceedings leading the buoyant “Hooked On A Feeling” as “The Professor” at last expresses his pent-up adoration for “Jackie”. The concluding Act also sees him curiously at the center of several big “slapstick” instrumental intermezzos: the first, as “The Professor” attempts to rescue “Jackie” and her children by walking on a balance beam over the fast-rising waters while “Nadia’s Theme” blasts through the hall; then, as part of the brigade of Tappers who send Morse-Code instructions (via their feet) as to how “Chad” and “Marianne” can unlock a door the couple is trapped by (all set to the ‘disco-tinged’ “Fifth Of Beethoven”.)
As the (eventual) object of his affection, Adriana Sanchez amazes (yet again) as “Jackie Noelle”. Dolled-up in a blonde wig (complete with a vibrant Wella-Balsam luster) and a dress right out of a “Lola Falana” Nightclub Revue, her opening thriller, “Saturday Night” is an impressive group endeavor as well with some energetic moves and rousing harmony from the ensemble. Then, her brief-but-brilliant duet with Fujioka (in a mask) to James Taylor and Carley Simon’s “Mocking Bird” is cunningly staged reminiscent of one of countless such interludes on now-classic variety programs like “Sonny And Cher”, “Flip Wilson” or “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour” (For that matter, the whole show is like an extended “Silver-Screen” parody skit so popular on “Carol Burnett”, “The Hudson Brothers”, and those others—but it all works masterfully!) Dee Shandera too, is an absolute delight–tossing in a few respectful nods to Shelly Winters in “The Poseidon Adventure” as the lovable ‘Yenta’, “Shirley Winters”. Anyone familiar with her previous outings on “The Gem” stage is sure to be awe-struck by her complete transformation in this role! Garnering some of the very best lines in the entire production, she puts her time-tested comedic abilities to superlative use seeing as “Shirl” is hiding a serious medical condition from her Hubby (–played with equal amicability by Jon Michell,) that has her swearing (some of the most off-the-wall bits of invective) and making faces the more dire it becomes! Debbi Ebert herself sparkles as the “Disco Diva Supreme”, “Levora Verona”! Given Ms. Ebert’s laudable handling, her “Levora” has less in common with say, “Yvonne Elliman” or “Melba Moore” than with “larger-than-life’ cross-dressing chanteuse “Sylvester” (of “You Make Me Feel Mighty Real” fame.) She also has a perceptive way with several sharp melodic puns she’s been tasked with that insures the most laughs, such as when, having dodged paying her cab fare, she pensively pauses to reflect how she—once the “Greatest of Disco Divas”–should find herself in such a sorry fiscal state, before bursting forth with Diana Ross’s “Theme From Mahogany”: “Do you know where you’re going to? Do you like the things that life is showing you? (—Do you know?!)” Ebert also shines when delivering “Come To Me” (sung to her dog as she’s desperately looking for him); but her undisputed, triumph transpires while leading the dynamic Act Break: “Knock On Wood” (which ends when that “Big One” takes place!)
Venerable supporting performances are also furnished by Amanda Zaida Hansen, who also makes the most of her time as the obsessive “Sister Mary Downey” (complete with the standard Guitar.) “Your life is like your outfit—Black and White,” Shirl admonishes the Sister. Hansen garners big laughs practically from the second she sets foot on stage crooning a “Hip” version of “The Lord’s Prayer” (—an eccentric ‘chart-topper’ from an Australian Nun named “Sister Janet Mead”, which genuinely dominated the radio-waves back in 1974!) Race Chambers also hits pay-dirt as ‘Would-be’ Casanova “Chad Rubik”. “What’s your sign?” he asks when coming on to one vapid (–but Super Foxy) “Disco Dolly” early on; when she purrs that she’s a “Virgo”, he replies “You mean ‘The Virgin’?”; “I’ll never tell!” she giggles! Chambers has an exceptional voice which he demonstrates straight away (while essentially kicking off the show) with “Hot Stuff”, then again with his rendition of the near-histrionic (like many of the songs that fill-out this score,) “Can’t Live (If Livin’ Is Without You)”.
He also more than holds up his part of the iconic “Feelings”. As his lost “Lady Love” who’s found again—now the free-lance Investigative Reporter, Brittany Gerardi also makes the most of her time on-stage as “Marianne Wilson”. Humorously tolerating “Tony’s” salivating advances in hopes of getting a big scoop, she gets to show-off her own substantial singing-abilities with “I Am Woman (Hear Me Roar)” as the ‘liberated’ “Marianne” tries to convince young “Lisa” that being a truly fulfilled woman means being independent, only to later expose a shadow of doubt as to this claim’s veracity with “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be”. Together with Chambers, the pair dispatch a number of red-hot duets as their “Romance” once more re-ignites– including, “Baby Hold Onto Me” and “I’d Really Like To See You Tonight”, then earning some potent eleventh hour laughs by ‘re-purposing’ Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited”. Meanwhile, ‘Twins’ “Lisa” and her “Lite-Brite ‘Enthusiast” sibling, “Ben” are both assayed to side-splitting effect by Megan Michell. As “Lisa”, Michell does a superior comedic job ‘personalizing’ the refrain to “I Am Woman” that state “I am still an embryo with a long, long, way to go until I make my brother understand” into an outright reference to her own quarrelsome brother “Ben”. Afterwards, she mines the most (well-deserved) laughs–singing both “Ben” and “Lisa’s” parts opposite ‘their’ mother, “Jackie” during “When Will I Be Loved” (while the ‘three’ of them are stuck in a tank awaiting a rescue that might never come!)
Oh yeah–the costumes by Ramzi Jneid are, well…’adequate’ to say the very least, punctuated with loads of flashy gold-chains (a few glistening over conspicuously unruly chest-hair,) polyester Leisure-suits, huge clog-heeled shoes (for both sexes.) It’s almost like she invaded Keith and Laurie Partridge’s closets! She also gives us some silky sequin blouses for the ladies–and lamé everything makes abundant appearances all through, as well as vests–the very best of which being “The Professor’s” Beige-gray buttoned-down selection over his Burnt Sienna turtleneck, topping damask-grey patterned boot-cut trousers. Noteworthy also are several judiciously placed items of apparel that instantly conjure half-forgotten memories of what a singular era this was in our collective “Fashion” history, with clothing like “Chad’s” frilled ‘peasant’ shirt atop bell-bottom trousers, or “Shirley’s” flowing, low-cut “Gypsy” gown (accessorized with a silk head-scarf.) Topping them all though is “Tony’s” border-line macabre “Mauve” outfit that looks like one of the more “with-it” cast-offs from “The Groovy Ghoulies”—encompassing a jolting over-sized sport-coat, silk shirt (with too many buttons left undone) over matching striped slacks. (Even Sister Mary’s coal-black skirt is cut a little high for a “Woman Of The Cloth”.) Harold Mendenhal’s vivacious “Lighting Design” also makes strategic use of color, generally implementing “Blue”, “Turquoise” or “Violet” hues to suggest a calmer, easier-going point in the undertakings, while bolder colors like Reds, Oranges and Gold could mean either something unsettling has gone down (or is about to!) He also employs projections to excellent effect in the midst of the climatic “Knock On Wood” number, or to illustrate the actual “disasters” when they befall. For instance, when The ship is docked, he applies large, looming swirls spattered onto the on-stage flats to imply the chaos of “shifting” land-masses; while once the boat is off at sea, he engages others to imply large bubbles (and by extension, the idea of being submerged underwater.) Not to be over-looked either is the versatile split-level set design by Wally Huntoon, which is erected from a series of hard-borders that frame the stage, each decorated with over-sized Anchovies (which for this, seems absolutely fitting!)
The time is now to “get down with your bad self” and get on down to the “Gem Theatre” for this lively laugh-tastrophe of a show! Having ‘officially” opened on Saturday, March 2nd, “Disaster! The Musical” will continue through Sunday, March 24th, 2019 at “The Gem Theatre” located at: 12852 on historic Main Street in Garden Grove California. Showtimes are: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM. (Two additional Matinée performances have been added on Saturday March 9th, and Saturday, March 16th at 2:00 PM.) Tickets may be obtained by logging onto: www.onemoreproductions.com or by phone at: (714) 741-9550 X 221. Discounted tickets are available for Seniors, and Children (12 years old and under,) while special “Student Rush” tickets are also available for Thursday and Friday performances, and may be purchased thirty minutes before the show with a valid student identification card.
Production Stills By Ron Lyon, Courtesy Of Shoko Araki And “One More Productions” (www.onemoreproductions.com) Special Thanks To Damien Lorton, Nicole Cassesso, Shoko Araki, Ron Lyon, Shauna Bradford, Heather Holt-Smith, Alan Collins, Anthony Encina, Katie Marshall And To The Cast & Crew Of “The Gem Theatre” and One More Productions’ 2019 Regional Premiere Production Of “Disaster! The Musical” For Making This Story Possible.