(Photo by Caitlin McNaney)
Growing up on Long Island, Seth Rudetsky developed a youthful obsession with disaster movies and a taste for 1970s pop hits like “Torn Between Two Lovers” and “Sky High.” Fast forward almost 40 years, and Rudetsky and his BFF, actor/writer/director Jack Plotnick, have turned their mutual love of the disco decade into the hilariously demented musical Disaster! Set in 1979 on opening night of a shoddily constructed floating casino, Disaster! features a cast of Broadway all-stars: Adam Pascal, Kerry Butler, Roger Bart, Faith Prince, Kevin Chamberlin and Rachel York, plus Rudetsky and scene-stealing Broadway.com vlogger Jennifer Simard. Chatting about their show, Rudetsky and Plotnick are an entertaining blend of salty and sweet, finishing each other’s sentences and laughing at each other’s quips as they explain how a 20-year friendship can survive the creation of a big Broadway musical.
Q: Have you considered issuing a warning that audience members will be humming “Hooked on a Feeling” for weeks after seeing Disaster!?
SETH: That’s what we wanted, because we love this music. In the 70s, pop, rock and disco were on the radio at the same time, and this show has all three styles.
JACK: There’s so much heart in these songs, and they’re very lyric-centric. That kind of storytelling went away in the 80s.
SETH: We do Barry Manilow’s “Daybreak” in the show, and when I saw him on Broadway, he said, “Does anybody write melodies anymore?” I thought, Exactly! Jack and I identify with the amazing melodies of the 70s.
JACK: For people our age, it’s a warm memory. I hear this music and it’s like sunshine coming through the windows on a car ride with my family.
SETH: You and I had different childhoods. I remember being overweight and hating my body and my parents yelling. But nevertheless…memories!
Q: Songs such as “Ben” and “Feelings” are used in funny ways, but you obviously chose them with affection. Have you heard from the writers or original artists?
SETH: Barry Manilow was excited we used one of his songs. We’re hoping that all the original stars will come.
JACK: Wouldn’t that be a thrill? The person who wrote “Never Can Say Goodbye” [Clifton Davis] works across the street in Aladdin, and we hope he will come. We’re inviting Helen Reddy to sing “I Am Woman.”
Q: Aren’t you too young to remember 70s disaster movies?
SETH: No, my parents took me! I was the youngest child, so by the time I was born, no one had any boundaries. I saw Death Wish and Taxi Driver, Earthquake and The Poseidon Adventure and a movie about snakes called Sssssss. I wanted to be a meteorologist and was obsessed with disasters. I was so mad that Long Island didn’t have a fault line because I wanted to be in an earthquake.
JACK: One of my favorite movies of all time was Airplane! I loved the idea of naughty, high stakes comedy mixed with disasters, so it’s perfect to get to do a musical that pays homage to those movies.
Q: Never mind Kevin Bacon—on Broadway, the game could be “six degrees of Seth Rudetsky.” How did you cast the show from among your famous friends and collaborators?
SETH: We just wanted great people. One of our producers loves Kerry Butler and I’ve known her my whole life. Then my husband [Disaster! producer James Wesley] and I were thinking about who would be good opposite her, and at the same moment, we said, “Adam Pascal!” I texted him and he wrote back right away to say he would do it.
Q: You’re one of the few people who can boast, “I met Faith Prince in group therapy.”
SETH: Oh god, yeah. We met when she was in previews for Guys and Dolls. We know a lot of secrets about each other. This is a rare combination of performers. Jack and I were so impressed that we got amazing actors who are also fantastic singers and SNL-caliber comedians.
Q: Is it intimidating, Seth, to share the stage with so many Broadway stars? And Jack, do you wish you were in the cast?
SETH: It’s horrifically intimidating! I do a scene with Faith Prince when she’s tapping and it freaks me out. I have a lot of scenes with Roger Bart, and I’m thinking, “I can’t believe such a brilliant comedian is willing to do this show with me.” But everyone in the cast is so supportive.
JACK: I’d love to jump in one day. I always forget to write myself a role! [In workshops] I played Scott [now played by Max Crumm] and the villain, Tony [now played by Roger Bart.]
SETH: If I take a vacation, Jack could take over for me. Just for a week!
Q: Dr. Phil would probably not recommend that best friends write a Broadway show together, with one directing the other.
JACK: That’s our relationship. We love creating things together. This just happens to be the biggest thing we’ve gotten to create.
SETH: We’ve done so many sketch shows, and it’s always worked—I give him ideas, we write it together and he directs it. We’ve had the exact same creative relationship since 1992.
JACK: Basically when we’re working on something, if we both laugh really hard, we say, “Put it in the show.” It’s one vision created by both of us.
SETH: My husband is producing the show and that could also be terrible, but it’s not. We just trust each other’s creative input, and one person ends up convincing the other person that something is right.
Q: Who’s the biggest diva in the cast?
SETH: I don’t think anyone is a diva.
JACK: That’s the great thing: It feels like summer camp because there’s no ego, just a bunch of people who are happy to be playing together.
SETH: That comes from the top, by the way, because Jack is so open to people’s ideas. I would say that Adam Pascal is the least diva. He’s always in a good mood, always smiling.
JACK: It’s a thrill to work with Adam in the theater where he started—he just dives in and puts himself in the silliest situations. One of my first theater memories is watching Rent with a standing room ticket. I remember hugging the pole in the back and sobbing as I watched Adam sing. Every time I walk by that spot now, I see the younger me there and pinch myself because I’m so elated to be here.