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‘Disaster!’ Broadway Review: ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ With Songs and Fewer Laughs

Occasionally a performer breaks through the ice of mediocrity to showcase real comic chops in this jukebox musical homage to the 1970s

A boat capsizes on Broadway and Irwin Allen turns over in his Hollywood grave. “Disaster” is too dynamic a word to describe the new jukebox musical “Disaster!,” which opened Tuesday at the Nederlander Theatre. Better words would be “lukewarm mess.”

Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick wrote the show, which has had previous incarnations in small theaters around Manhattan. Smaller, not to mention shorter, would help in every way. “Disaster!” sets the story of Irwin Allen’s “The Poseidon Adventure” on a floating casino that’s somehow responsible for creating an earthquake and a tsunami.

The long first act gets bogged down in telling us the “somehow” of that nonsense, rather than getting right to the boat capsizing. Tobin Ost’s set design is appropriately tacky, but other than an invasion of stuffed rats, never is his cheap replication of a spectacular movie special effect in any way amusing.

Rudetsky and Plotnick, who also directs, are wise to give us only snippets of 1970s hits like “Hot Stuff” and “I Will Survive.” In a send-up of the jukebox genre, they jam these songs into the narrative, occasionally to comic effect for about two stanzas. Several songs, like “I Am Woman,” are given fuller treatment, unfortunately.

Occasionally, a performer breaks through the ice of mediocrity to expose real comic chops. Jennifer Simard’s droll nun is a delight. Her making love to a slot machine is the musical’s one showstopper, but she’s given little to do in the second act.

Faith Prince doesn’t swim in the Shelley Winters role. Instead, she uncontrollably spews four-letter words, and somehow gets laughs with that lame character trait. Also fun is watching Roger Bart’s sleazy casino owner assiduously avoid a blind woman’s calls for help.

Robert Hofler, TheWrap's lead theater critic, has worked as an editor at Life, Us Weekly and Variety. His books include "The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson," "Party Animals," and "Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange, How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos." His latest book, "Money, Murder, and Dominick Dunne," is now in paperback.