About the author:
Back in 1996, Jennifer Simard proved her comic mettle by helping launch the 12-year-long run of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Since then, Simard has delighted audiences in Forbidden Broadway, The Thing About Men, Broadway’s Spelling Bee and more. She’s an actress who elevates every show she is in, and that’s certainly the case with the wacky musical Disaster! A parody of disaster flicks featuring some of the best (and kookiest) pop songs of the 1970s, the show features Simard as a devout nun whose gambling problem is reignited by the sight of a Hawaii 5-0 slot machine in a doomed floating disco and casino. (See the show, at off-Broadway's St Luke's Theatre. It's really, really funny.) Broadway.com asked this fabulous actress to write about her role and why courting Disaster! is such a treat.
A “chosen family” generally refers to friends who care a lot about one another, which is the number one reason why I'm glad to be involved in Disaster! My dear friends Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick have written something pretty special. We've known each other for more than 20 years, and I'm pinching myself that we get this small moment in time to play in the sandbox together.
Seth and Jack have assembled what amounts to the theater version of a Christopher Guest ensemble. It's a dream cast, and when I look to my left and right each night, I can't believe the talent and experience on that stage. Many of my scenes are with this fantastic newcomer named Mary Testa. I love our stuff, and I fancy us as Laurel and Hardy up there. We really take care of each other, and it is so satisfying to pass the ball back and forth.
Quite the opposite, I have zero scenes with my pal Seth. The single moment we have onstage is during a fabulous tap “challenge" (choreographed by the incredible Denis Jones) where in eight counts we stare at each other in our dance-off. Serious, "you're going down" eyes. I look forward to it every night.
There are countless moments to look forward to in this world of rich 1970s disaster movie archetypes. Every actor has a moment, and the audience undoubtedly relates to one or more characters. This success is largely due to Seth and Jack masterfully riding the line of tone. The archetypes they've created are not mere impressions of the characters in these movies; rather, they are built upon homages. They have written full, unique, layered people that you genuinely and surprisingly care about. My friend, the talented and easy on the eyes Alan H. Green, came to the show and said it best: "What? Now? Am I about to cry at this here Disaster?"
One of the characters they've written—and who will now be one of my favorites of all time—is my role, Sister Mary Downey. She is such a subtly complex combo platter of heart, control, lack thereof, awkwardness, pain, rage, darkness, light and low bone density. So much damage, which begs the question: What happened to her? I love filling in the answer every night and keeping her boiling just beneath the surface. There's a lot going on with sweet Sr. Mary, and her arc in the show is lovely.
I am very lucky not only to be playing and singing such a great part but also that the creators gave me a lot of freedom to add my own things to it. Because of my improv background, so many things just happen in the moment, and half the time I don't even know I am doing them. Co-creator Drew Geraci came up to me the other day and said, "You did this really organic thing in 'Signed Sealed, Delivered,'" which he then proceeded to demonstrate. I had very little memory that it had happened, but he told me to keep it. It's a testament to the fact that Drew, Seth and Jack feel secure within themselves that they allow me to be so creative. I don't know of any artist who doesn't appreciate being trusted.
Finally, in self-help books or seminars, we're often told that in order to be successful, we should look at the habits of successful people. Well, I might suggest looking at the habits of Seth Rudesky. Wow. I honestly don't know how he does it. Starring in our show, which he co-wrote. Flying on his days off to perform various shows that he's written, or accompanying divas in their concerts. Taping his "obsessed" videos. Fulfilling his Sirius radio duties. Writing articles and books. Producer. Husband. Father. Son. Sibling. Friend. Seth, you amaze me. Now GET SOME SLEEP!