Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick have been friends since they first met in their early 20s. Their current Broadway collaboration is the musical comedy Disaster!, open through July 3. Disaster! is a satirical jukebox musical that pokes fun at classic 1970s disaster movies with the era’s top pop and rock hits. Recently, Disaster! star Roger Bart sat down with writer Rudetsky and co-writer and director Plotnick to discuss their origins in theatre, their youthful forays into sketch comedy, and how they came to write their “disastrous” new hit.
Roger Bart: When did you get bit by the entertainment bug?
Jack Plotnick: When I was in sixth grade, I went and saw Oklahoma! and I was just like, “Oh my god, that’s how I can perform.” I did tons of community theatre and children’s theatre in Ohio.
RB: And what about you, Seth? I know you grew up here in Long Island.
Seth Rudetsky: I listened to cast albums at home and tried to recreate choreography all the time. Even though I was good at piano [and became] a classical pianist, it was theatre that I really wanted to do.
RB: Tell me about when you guys met. Did you hit it off right away? How old were you?
SR: We met in our very early twenties. I was [music directing] a show called Pageant. Someone called me saying “our friend Jack is trying out for Pageant. Would you coach him?” So Jack came over, and I said, “We’re looking for an understudy. Make every eight bars a different character in Pageant so they can see that you can do [them all].” And then he got the job.
JP: Whenever I would sing, Seth would be in the pit hold[ing] his ears like it hurt to hear.
SR: Well, because he never knew the harmonies!
JP: So I just thought he was so funny. Seth was doing this comedy show, and he invited me to see it, and it just changed everything for me. I just thought, “Oh my God, I would love to do something with this guy.”
SR: So Jack and I [were] sort of writing this sketch show together.
JP: I remember after Pageant, I booked Grand Hotel at some dinner theatre somewhere, and I’m watching people eat spaghetti as they watch us, and I had this realization that I was having more fun at the basement of Don’t Tell Mama’s doing this silly sketch show than I was doing this musical. We kept performing sketch together, and it kept growing, so we had a monthly show at Caroline’s Comedy Club called…
SR: Plotnick and Rudetsky: We Have Awful Last Names.
RB: So now getting to this most recent endeavor, Disaster! Do you remember the moment where the two of you thought to put this idea together?
SR: My friend Drew and I were doing Forever Plaid together, and we were backstage and we thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny if a disaster movie was a musical? It would be about the blackout of 1977, and there’d be a big riot in the street, and someone would say, ‘Everybody was kung-fu fighting.’” We’d always have a joke about it, and then I said, “I really want to do it.”
RB: And what’s your take, Jack?
JP: Seth came to meet me in Palm Springs, and we were just relaxing by the pool. I was mind-boggled how he was putting it off…it was like he was just afraid to open up the laptop! So just that act of starting to type it down started this avalanche of ideas from him, and we just immediately started, because we were in the habit of bouncing things off each other and making each other laugh with jokes and ideas.
RB: What was opening night on Broadway like for you guys?
SR: It was amazing, but it was also stressful, because you want your show to run. And, you know, thank God we had one of those opening nights where the company manager pulled me and James aside and said, “You got a Critic’s Pick in the New York Times.”
JP: My first half of the night was a dream come true. I was looking around seeing these legions of people I have so much respect for. Sitting right behind me was Tina Fey.
RB: And the future of the show?
SR: You know, Jack says he comes from community theatre. This, to me, is an amazing show to license for community theatre, because it has a role for the town banker and the young kid. [To Roger] I’m just curious what your experience was working with me and working with Jack, because you’ve done so many Broadway shows and so many writers.
RB: I like to be in a constant state of problem-solving and creativity. That’s where I feel the most alive and the most creative. … You know, Jack would often sort of say, “Let’s try it for a few days. Let me get acquainted with it, and I’ll give you a yay or nay.” I always felt that that was a very mature and a very sensible and logical way to approach art and comedy, in particular, these kind of collaborative forms, so my feeling with you guys is that I felt very safe. I felt right at home.
SR: Aw, you’re wonderful.
JP: Print it. That was beautiful.