The Disaster! Diaries: Making a New Broadway Musical (Part 1)

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Follow Seth Rudetsky's regular updates direct from the rehearsal room!
HR- Disaster

Actor-writer-music supervisor and your am-AH-zing Playbill.com columnist Seth Rudetsky chronicles the making of his Broadway show Disaster! A New Musical. From day one of rehearsal all the way to opening night, check in for regular updates — stories, backstage photos, videos and more — from Seth on the realization of his Broadway dream.

REHEARSALS

JANUARY 20, 2015: 11:04 PM
DAY 13, REHEARSAL

This morning we ran the number in Act One where Roger Bart and I have our first altercation. Here's a little succession of photos of him manhandling me:

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Then, this afternoon, we ran Act Two. Yowza! It was hard. Everyone was so tired because we had to be at yesterday’s press event super early. Everyone was super shaky on Act Two because we'd only rehearsed some of the scenes literally once! But we had to run it because our design team was only available to come today and see it. So, we did it and got through it. Barely. It was r-o-u-g-h. But the good news is, even though all the actors were a mite devastated from not really knowing our lines/blocking/anything, our lead producer really loved it. He said he knew we all didn't know it that well at this point, but he was invigorated watching it! So, the run-through ended on a high note for all of us.

Here's my favorite shot from the run-through…when I block Rachel York (Jackie) and her son Ben (played by Baylee Litrell) from an onslaught of rats!

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Every time we rehearse, I see the swings taking notes. I saw that Paul Castree had a few scripts and I realized that he has a different script for each person he covers. I told him I liked his three scripts…he then told me he had seven. Of course, he's so organized that they're all color-coded. Look!

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Paul is hi-larious! Here's one of my favorite Obsessed!'s that I did with him. So fun-nee! Watch, and then peace out.

JANUARY 19, 2015: 11:16 PM
DAY 12, REHEARSAL

Today we did our first press event! It was for various theatre outlets and group sales people. It went AMAZINGLY! I'll have a lot more details in my main Monday column, but here's a pic of the sound check of "Hot Stuff." So fun!

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And here's a little video of Lacretta Nicole rehearsing "Knock on Wood." As I was filming, I suddenly realized I was supposed to be in the second half of the number! So, the reason you see a blank screen halfway through is because I started running to the stage like a crazy person. Enjoy?

Jack was hilarious during rehearsal, and we started doing this bit where we decided he was a shy director. He would look at the cast half hidden behind a wall and I would say, "You guys! He's really shy…"

Disaster Diary_Jan 19

Then, we decided the only way this shy director can give notes to the cast is to write them down and then hand them to someone while having his eyes tightly closed. Like this:

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Literally couldn't stop laughing!

In the afternoon, Rick Sordelet, our fight coordinator, came to the studio. He put together the fight Roger Bart and I have and the fight Roger has with Adam Pascal. Here's Adam winding up for the punch:

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And, here's the punch:

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Rick said you think of the person you're punching as having a parrot on his shoulder and then you punch the parrot. Roger immediately said, "I punched the parrot this morning. I immediately felt a lot less tense." He's still got it! On that note, peace out!


JANUARY 18, 2015: 11:24 PM
DAY 11, REHEARSAL

Welcome to week three of rehearsals! Today we did a lot of Act Two staging, and we're up to the last quarter of the act. Here I am with Faith Prince and Jennifer Simard in a little break from doing "Sky High," one of the big (almost) full cast numbers in Act Two.

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Roger Bart is so effing funny. At one point, we were running a scene after the earthquake where the casino breaks away from the Hudson River pier and rapidly careens towards the open ocean. Roger tells the crowd not to worry because, "This casino is also a boat! We'll simply sail to safety!" Well, as soon as he said it, he realized how many S's in a row he had to say and commented on it by repeating the name of a book/film with the same amount of annoying S's. So, during the rehearsal this is what I heard:

ROGER: “We'll simply sail to safety! 'Smila's Sense of Snow.'"

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I thought it was HILARIOUS.

Also, our commercial has been airing all the time. So exciting!

Every time I'm at the gym in the morning, they have on NY1 and I see the commercial and do a lot of casual/frantic pointing at the screen and at my face. In the commercial, there's an enormous windstorm with tons of stuff flying at us. That was first achieved by having a green screen on back of us to make it look like a scary sky. Then they threw a pile of stuff in the air while they turned on tons of fans that were facing us. We filmed that section many, many times. At first, we just used paper. Then, we added lots of other things that flew towards us…including undergarments. Jack and James were at the film shoot and James took these pictures that we love:

You see, after every windstorm, all the various things that flew at us had to be gathered so we could throw them again. Here's Jack frantically cleaning up all the paper that hit us while he firmly clenches a bra in his mouth. And on that note, peace out!

JANUARY 14, 2015:
DAY NINE, REHEARSAL

Today we ran Act One! So, so fun! We were doing it so the actors could get used to the flow and also so members of the creative team who haven’t seen it could see it. We had our (Tony Award-winning!) lighting designer, Jeff Croiter, there so he would have a sense of where everyone is throughout the act. We also had our fabulous orchestrator, Joe Joubert, and our vocal arranger (and my longtime friend), Michael McElroy, there so they could hear how the music is progressing. Speaking of Michael McElroy, we filmed a hilarious "Obsessed" together where we talked about our long-time joke: dead eyes with vibrato. Watch!

Everyone was really happy with Act One! There are changes we want to make, but nothing monumental — mostly some cuts which will make the act go even faster. On a break, I hightailed it over to the Nederlander Theatre where Disaster! will open. Why? To secretly check out the dressing rooms! Every theatre has the good dressing rooms and the clunky ones, and I wanted to find out which ones were which so I could put in a request before being randomly assigned one. This is me on my secret mission.

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Here’s me in front of the box office taking what I thought would be a cool photo of me pointing to the various ticket prices. Of course, the screen with the tickets is backlit, so the picture is basically me pointing to an empty television screen.

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Here’s one of the dressing rooms I’m considering because I love the delicious window next to the dressing table!

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And finally, speaking of Act One, here’s a moment with Max Crumm, who plays Scott — the nerdy best friend of Chad (Adam Pascal). Max comes on to one of the women in the casino, and she’s horrified and flees. I love this action photo! Olivia Phillip, who Max is trying to awkwardly kiss, looks revolted, but Maggie McDowell who’s not even involved with the kiss looks completely horrified. Adam Pascal simply looks amused (and super cute).

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Tune in tomorrow for when we finish staging Act Two!

JANUARY 13, 2015: 8:28 PM
DAY EIGHT, REHEARSAL

Today we finished staging Act One! Mostly. We still haven't done the big disaster that happens during the act, but we've done everything else! That means tomorrow we're going to do a run-through of the act for lighting and tech people. So fun!

Here's Rachel York's first big number that happens early in Act One. I love that JoAnn (our choreographer) is doing her signature standing-while-watching-the-number (so she can see the whole stage picture), and I love how Jack is so engaged that he's leaning in.

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Also, Equity, our actors union, declared today "Swing Day." A swing is someone who understudies many, many ensemble people. In our show, we have Paul Castree covering all the men in the ensemble plus three principals, and Alyse Alan Louis covering all the ensemble women and three principals. They have to watch the choreography (which keeps changing) at all times. And they have to be ready to go on for anybody. And they've been having to attend almost every rehearsal! Mano Felciano and Catherine Ricafort are both in other shows right now, so they leave to do matinees and all of the ensemble people have left at some point to go to costume fittings. So Paul and Alyse are constantly being thrown on. How do they know what to do? I barely know where to go onstage and I only have one role (not exaggerating). There's no down time for them; they are constantly taking notes so they can quickly refer to them whenever they need to know what to do during a song. Here's a shot of Alyse writing in her swing notebook, and down the aisle you can see Paul writing in his.


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Jennifer Simard, who plays Sister Mary Downy, the update/shutdown nun with the gambling addiction, is amazing on her Act One song…but it's really hard to sing. She has to belt (Mix? Who knows?) a high B…below high C! Jennifer said she wants to make it difficult for herself in rehearsal so it’ll be easier on Broadway. Hence, she does the song with weights (!) attached to her wrists and ankles. It reminds me of Marissa Jaret Winokur, who prepared for Hairspray by singing all the songs while jogging on a treadmill so she could get used to being winded and singing. Such dedication…yet sounds like someone I don't want to be next to at the gym. P.S. Note Jenn's signature head angle.

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Peace out!

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JANUARY 12, 2015: 10:11 PM
DAY SEVEN, REHEARSAL

We're really close to finishing staging act one! Today we worked on the finale, as well as the opening number. The beginning of the show takes place outside the Barracuda, NY's first floating casino. Roger Bart is the unscrupulous owner and he's extremely happy that every important person in NYC is lining up to get in. Here's a moment from the number when several beautiful women come on to him to gain admittance. I love the faces he's able to make while he's dancing.

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Disaster Day 7

Speaking of which, he knew I was going to try to get a bad shot of him learning the choreography, so while I was taking photos, one of his "dance moves" was him literally putting his hand over my lens. Hi-lar!

Here's cutie Adam Pascal doing the opening number. Not only is he "selling it" with his hands, but on a subconscious level those hands represent a project he and I are doing together: trying to not bite our nails! We are both major nail-biters and both of us stopped this summer for almost two months…then started again. We decided to make a pact we'd both stop together. I hope we both "nail it." P.S. I still got it!

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And finally, the advertising for the show has just begun. Not only has the amazing commercial debuted, but there are also Disaster! flyers that have been sent to tons of theatergoers. I've gotten such fun responses on Facebook from my friends. Here's one from my High School friend, Debra Karp Skopicki:

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Here's my friend Belinda from musical theatre summer camp giving a shout-out from her doggie to mine:

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And here's the response from one of my best friends, Tim Cross. He came home and found the flyer in his mailbox. He then immediately posted this on my Facebook wall:

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I love how impersonal it is and the fact that his key is still in the mailbox! Visit tomorrow for more updates!!!

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JANUARY 11, 2015: 9:03 PM
DAY SIX, REHEARSAL

Welcome to week two of Disaster! rehearsals!

Today I will talk a little about food! I mentioned that we have our own area in the big rehearsal studio where we're renting space and within it we have couches, table, a coffee maker and fridge. It's very fun to sit and chat/eat while we have breaks from rehearsing. James' mom had made all these baked goods for our New Year's Eve party and a lot were still left over in the apartment. James and I brought them to rehearsal hoping someone would eat them…but I was nervous they might taste stale since they were 11 days old. We filled two tins with (11-day-old) treats…and here's what was left after a few hours.

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Turns out I had nothing to worry about. I'm not saying they weren't stale, I'm saying actors are hungry.

Speaking of which, Manoel Felciano brought in Quest bars (?) to eat as a snack. First of all, what are they? Second of all, for some reason, he felt it necessary to make sure everybody knew that they were his and that no one was to take any. He wrote his name in two giant spots on the box. I busted him for being in such a panic that someone might touch his precious, precious snacks. That's the kind of thing you do when you have a roommate who is constantly taking your stuff and you want to passive/aggressively make it known that you're on to them. Anyhoo, a few days after I dished him, I passed the food table and suddenly noticed he had re-labled the Quest bars to make it look like I was the a**hole!! Yes, he put my name all over the box warning people to stay away!! And some warnings were so specific. My favorite threat was "Eat on pain of withering critique." I was very impressed that he re-wrote the label days before, but never said anything. He was willing to wait as long as it took for me to notice them! That's commitment to a joke!

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Right now the Nederlander Theatre is getting all the lighting loaded in and next will come the set. James walked by the theater today and saw a big moving truck delivering some of what's going into the space. So cool!

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There is a ton of lighting that our (Tony Award-winning) lighting designer, Jeff Croiter, is bringing in for the show. Larry Rogowsky, one of our producers, was walking on 41st street and saw the most appropriate lighting device for a 1970s show about to be loaded in. Take a gander and peace out!

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JANUARY 8, 2015
DAY FIVE, REHEARSAL

It's the end of the first week of rehearsals and we're tired but still having fun. We focused on big dance numbers and here's a shot of Lacretta Nicole doing the Act One finale. Lacretta plays Levora Verona, a bankrupt disco star who's desperate to win at the casino's big slot machine. We don't have the actually slot machine we're going to use on Broadway, so she rehearsed the number using something I loved to play with as a child: a cardboard box. She's surrounded by Mano Felciano and Olivia Phillip who play the "snooty couple." Mano has a Tony nomination (Sweeney Todd) and Olivia is British so the snootiness was easy to act.

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Disaster day 5

Here's Rachel York doing "Saturday Night" her first big number. I'm not sure why her prop microphone is a combination mic, personal massager, antennae and electric toothbrush, but I do know that someone's cornea is going to be scratched soon.

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Disaster day 5

Speaking of that song, we were all learning the harmonies when Kevin Chamberlin googled a shot of the original singers, the Bay City Rollers. Kevin commented that, judging by their pants, a flood was surely coming.

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Disaster day 5

We loved the photo so much, we had Mike Karns turn it into our new favorite photo: the men of Disaster!.

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Disaster day 5

See you after our day off!

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JANUARY 7, 2015: 10:15 PM
DAY FOUR, REHEARSAL

Today was a fun day of staging scenes and songs from Act One. Here’s Catherine Ricafort and Casey Garvin in a sassy pose. They’re both ensemble members or “victims” as they’re known in the script. In this scene, they’re on the wait staff of the Barracuda, NY’s first floating casino. Catherine is currently doing double duty rehearsing Disaster! during the day and performing in Allegiance at night. Casey Garvin is on the left and currently making me feel incredibly old because he is 23. Not cool.

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Disaster day 4 Disaster day 4

Besides feeling old near Casey, I’ve also never felt more Jewish next to various cast members. Here are three stunning blonds from the cast: Rachel York, Maggie McDowell and Travis Kent. P.S. Rachel, who plays a nightclub singer, is sticking her prop mic in Maggie’s hair. Please note this moment is not nor never will be in the show.

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Disaster day 4 Disaster day 4

Here’s Roger Bart and me in our first encounter. I play the disaster expert who’s warning him that an earthquake is coming, while he plays the typical disaster movie character who refuses to believe anything could go wrong. In this moment, he’s ignoring my plea to evacuate the Barracuda and instead offering me a Swedish meatball. P.S. The so-called prop Roger is using was made by me and the stage manager — a bundled-up piece of paper taped to a red plastic straw cut in half. The only similarity between that prop and an actual Swedish meatball is that they’re both made of matter. Prop-making grade: C minus.

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Disaster day 4 Disaster day 4

And finally, a shot of four-time Drama Desk nominee (!) Jennifer Simard, who plays Sister Mary Downy — the nun with a gambling addiction. This is us on break when I asked Jennifer to do her signature pose that she does for all “candid” shots. It’s always to the side with chin lifted because she’s discovered it’s a great angle for a face photo. Speaking of faces, mine is saying, “Why are you always doing that pose?”

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Disaster day 4 Disaster day 4

More tomorrow and perhaps a new pose from Jennifer. (Do not count on it.)

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January 6, 2015: 10:12 PM
DAY THREE, REHEARSAL

Today we did a lot of Act One staging!

Here are pics of some of the scenes we did today:

This is a shot of Rachel York (who plays Jackie the nightclub singer), Baylee Litrell (who plays her son, Ben) and Roger Bart (who plays Tony, the unscrupulous owner of New York’s first floating casino). Baylee is showing Roger and Rachel his Lite Brite. Turns out, rehearsal props are expensive so he’s holding nothing.

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Baylee also plays Ben’s twin, Lisa! Here’s Lisa and Kerry Butler (who plays Marianne, the feminist reporter) staging “I Am Woman.” (Note: “Lisa” is holding a headless Betsy Wetsy doll.)

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Here’s Rachel and me singing our Act One duet. As you can see, she is as tall as I am and she’s not wearing any heels in this rehearsal. If you come see the show, be prepared for me to look like Linda Hunt.

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Most Broadway shows rehearse in rehearsal studios and then move to the theater for tech rehearsal. What’s super cool is we have three rooms dedicated to us, as well as the whole hallway outside the rooms. It’s our own Disaster! wing! One room is for staging the show, one is for choreography and one is for teaching music. People are in all different rooms throughout the day and when they’re needed in two rooms at the same time, either one of the swings step in, or Jack does or I do.

Here’s Jack rehearsing a scene with Adam Pascal (Chad, the artist/waiter) and Kerry Butler. Jack is playing the role of the sexy waitress. Can you tell? I can’t.

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And finally, during lunch I ran to my radio show at SiriusXM to get some work done. And by “work” I mean I was in the kitchen using the microwave. Another deejay walked in and his lunchbox was such a tip o’ the hat to Disaster! that I had to take a photo and post it. Brava 70s disaster films!

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January 5, 2015: 9:03 PM
DAY TWO, REHEARSAL

Today began with a big music rehearsal. Steve Marzullo was at the piano teaching the harmonies for all the songs and we sat with our music on music stands. You can see Steve in the front in this photo with Larry Pressgrove, our associate music director, sitting next to him. (P.S. The same Larry from [title of show]!) In the last row you can see the backs of Adam Pascal, Kerry Butler and Lacretta Nicole.

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Michael McElroy who does amazing arrangements for the Broadway Inspirational Voices is our vocal arranger. All the songs in the show are from the 70s and we wanted Michael to make them sound like the originals but add his own sass as well. Here’s one of my favorite McElroy arrangements where he really added sass. It’s Billy Porter singing “Sunday” from Sunday In The Park With George. Listen!

Then, since we had the whole cast together for the first time, we did a read-through of the entire show with Jack reading stage directions.

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Jack and I recently made changes to the script and it was terrifying to hear them out loud for the first time, but we were so so relieved to hear that they really worked!!! One of the best feelings is hearing something you’ve written out loud for the first time and getting the reaction you dreamed of. Delish!

Here’s Adam and Kerry during the run-through singing their Act II duet while Jennifer swigs the requisite water that actors always have on hand.

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Speaking of water, the shocking news is, Jack’s laptop from yesterday (which was doused with an entire bottle of water)…works! He said his last laptop got four drops of water on it and never worked again, and this laptop had an entire bottle poured on it yet works like a dream. I wanted to take a pic of Jack with his working computer, and he posed, but I don’t know why he couldn’t look like he was actually typing. Why arthritic claw hands? Get back to me if you have an answer, and tune in tomorrow for day three!

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January 4, 2015: 8:20 PM
DAY ONE, REHEARSAL

Today began rehearsals for Disaster!, which starts previews at the Nederlander Theatre on Feb. 9 and opens on Mar. 8. First of all, OMG! Second of all, I’m going to keep a daily update of the process of getting this show to opening night!

Here are today’s highlights:

Our set designer Tobin Ost showed everyone a model of the set…including how it’s going to look during the earthquake and after the tidal wave. Here’s a pic of Max Crumm (who plays Scott, Adam Pascal’s nerdy best friend) and Lacretta Nicole (who plays Levora Verona, a bankrupt disco diva) watching in awe!

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Here’s the water bottle that James’ mom got Jack Plotnick (co-writer and director) on Xmas day. Yay! That means that instead of re-using an old disgusting Poland Spring bottle all day long, he can have a nice clean place for the water he constantly, and I mean constantly drinks.

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Here’s his computer after the entire contents of that water bottle spilled directly onto the keyboard. By the way, this is not the first computer he’s spilled water on. Last time, a few drops got onto his laptop and it completely broke. I’m sure a full 16 ounces of liquid didn’t harm his new one at all. Note the fan desperately trying to dry it.

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This is our choreographer JoAnn Hunter, who’s currently represented on Broadway by School of Rock.

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In order to see everyone in the dance number we were working on, she stood on a chair and is either:

a. being a human periscope

b. vogueing circa 1989.

c. searching for an ounce of dance talent from me

Note me in the process of literally putting my foot down.

Tomorrow we start learning all the harmonies for the big numbers and do a read-through of the entire script. YAY!

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