Encore Michigan

Barn Does Disaster Redux To Open Season

Review June 06, 2019 David Kiley

The Barn Theatre sold out its run of Disaster last September, so it decided to open its new season with the show with some different cast members. What follows is a merge between Bridgette Redman’s review of last year’s production and David Kiley’s review of this month’s show.

AUGUSTA, Mich.–There are some shows that shouldn’t be done at all unless you are willing to fully commit and go completely over the top.

The Barn Theater proved it is not only willing to do that, but it is fully capable and can pull off even the silliest of shows with a hilarity that keeps its audience laughing nearly every minute of the show.

Disaster by Seth Rudetsky and Drew Geraci is a send-up of 70s disaster movies and the music that made the decade so memorable. It manages to pack in earthquakes, tidal waves, infernos, sharks, killer rats and piranhas and do so to the soundtrack of disco, ballads, and the hits that we thought we wanted to forget.

In true jukebox musical style, Disaster quickly establishes that it is willing to use and abuse any song that will let it parody the decade and be squeezed into its plot. And yes, this jukebox musical does have a plot, though not one that it ever expects anyone to take seriously.

It’s 1979 in New York and a floating casino and discotheque is having its grand opening. Only we soon know things are going to go south because the renowned disaster expert, Ted, played by Hans Friedrichs, tells us the pier is on a fault line and everyone is in danger from an earthquake. That and the boat owner, Tony, played by Jonnie Carpathios, is as sleazy as his leisure suit, is loosely modeled after a 1970s Donald Trump, and has ignored all the safety regulations and capacity guidelines.

Then there are the guests and employees of the ship.

Penelope Alex and Charlie King play Shirley and Maury, a retired married couple who are madly in love. Those who saw “Hairspray” last summer at the Barn will recognize King from his role there. It’s almost the same role, but with a different partner—both are celebrating love between a couple that has been together a long time and have aged well together. When Shirley starts showing the symptoms of a strange disease, Alex plays it to the hilt and her performance takes camp to delightful heights.

Lounge singer Jackie is hoping for a marriage proposal from Tony, the latest in a series of wrong men. Played by Samantha Rickard, she steadily sheds clothing, each costume getting shorter and shorter as she reassures her twin 11-year-olds, Ben and Lisa, both played by Aiden Wall, that they’ll soon have a father.

Chad and Scott, best friends and caterers, are polar opposites who always have one another’s back. Played by Jamey Grisham and Christian Edwards respectively, Grisham is the womanizer who always has a slick line—until he comes face to face with his ex, a feminist reporter, Marianne, played by Melissa Cotton Hunter.

Luiza Vitucci dons a habit to play Sister Mary Downy, a nun passing out fliers telling everyone they are going to hell. We soon learn she is fighting a gambling addiction and will find herself in a mortal struggle over what to do with the quarter for the orphan’s fund.

The director, Patrick Hunter, makes sure everyone is committed to going over the top with every choice. He doesn’t shy away from anything, no matter how outlandish, corny or naughty.

Music director Brent J. Decker contributed to the fun, playing with the music, teasing the well-known songs with their intros and then leading the pit with gusto from sound gags to ballads to rocking disco numbers (is that an oxymoron?).

Costume designer Michael Wilson Morgan makes sure the show is a visual treat too. It’s never necessary to announce the year, she takes the audience there immediately with the whole range of 70s fashion (again, is that an oxymoron?). From hippies to disco to leisure suits to lounge dresses, Alexandra costumes the large cast with everything from stuff to outlandish.

Sam Rudy let her creativity shine with plenty of created props from sharks to bloody skeletons and body parts. All of her handiwork got audience reaction and played right into Decker’s vision of this very silly, very fun musical.

The Barn is opening its 73rd season with this musical. It’s an uproarious romp with a risky show. It’s a musical that only works if you’re willing to fully embrace the parody and create characters who are almost cartoon-like in their absurdity. And at the Barn, every moment of this show works and makes for a night of pure entertainment.

Week of 9/16/2019

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