ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: A Musical Disaster Is Moving Off-Broadway

By Seth Rudetsky
16 Sep 2013

Denis Jones
Denis Jones
Photo by Monica Simoes

A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

I'm very, very excited because Disaster is moving Off-Broadway! Here's the backstory. Years ago I was doing Forever Plaid with Drew Geraci and we talked about writing a jukebox musical based on 1970's disaster movies. Mind you, this was 1993, way before the term "jukebox musical" was coined. Essentially it was when people still used jukeboxes. Anyhoo, I thought it would be hilarious to have the "disaster" be the New York City blackout from 1977. It seemed like such a minute disaster compared to all the horrible things that are featured in those films. Since the blackout took place in the ‘70's, I loved the idea of coupling it with 70's songs that would somehow advance the plot.

Drew and I thought the blackout should be caused by some villain... maybe a politician running for office who insists on having his name in an enormous amount of lights that blows the power grid. We then began to think of what songs we could use. I couldn't research it on the Internet, mainly because it didn't exist. Instead, I went to the Lincoln Center Public Library and began researching 70's songs. I got a bunch of them and put them in a file called Blackout ‘77. And that's where they stayed for more than 15 years.

Then, in 2011, Pam Pariseau, who was working with Dena Hammerstein and her charity organization called "Only Make Believe" (bringing theatre to hospitalized children) called me and asked if I'd do a benefit for them. I'd always performed in their yearly fundraisers (with people like Ian McKellen and Jude Law!) and I did Deconstructing Broadway for them and it sold out. So, Pam asked me if I'd do a new show. Dare I try to haul up Disaster?



I knew having a deadline would be a perfect way for a person like me (with ADD) to finish something he'd been "working on" for 15 years. I thought about the blackout idea and realized it would be difficult to light the whole show if it took place in the dark. Then I reminisced about all the various disasters that were featured in those ‘70's films and thought it would be amazing if they could all could be in the show! Forget a blackout — what about an earthquake, inferno, tidal wave, killer bees, sharks etc...?!

Drew wound up being super busy, so I wrote most of the script with my friend Jack Plotnick. But first he forced me to begin. For weeks, Drew and I had been tossing ideas back and forth but pen had never been put to paper, or more specifically, finger had never been put to keyboard. Then, in the middle of February 2011, I saw Jack at a charity event I was doing in Palm Desert for Desert AIDS. I told him all the ideas for the script. He loved them and asked me when the show was going to happen. I muttered that it was in two months. He had a momentary breakdown and then literally opened my computer and typed, "Act One, Scene One." Seeing it on the screen made me think, "OMG! This is really going to be a show."

I cast the show a la Charles Busch when he did Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, meaning I called my friends and offered them roles. I asked Denis Jones (who had done an amazing job on They're Playing Our Song when I starred in it with Sutton Foster, Watch!) to direct/choreograph and my friend Steve Marzullo signed on as music director. Steve and I go way back. He first hired me to sub for him on piano at Grease. Then I did Seussical and Mamma Mia! for him as well. Anyhoo, after a few days of rehearsal with everyone, we realized we couldn't be off book in such a short amount of time, so we decided to use our scripts for the performance. Regardless, it was still thrilling to put the show on its feet and see what worked.

 Continued...