SHOW FOLK: Jack Plotnick & Seth Rudetsky on Their Musical “Disaster”
Once a month, a member of the theater community will pull up a chair to our cyber table and join us for a little conversation. I’ll edit the transcripts (removing the truly libelous parts) and post the results here every second Wednesday. For February, we’re shaking things up (like an earthquake) by talking to two fabulous guests and bringing it to you a few days early (all the better to see their show this weekend)…
The tiny Triad Theater is being overrun by deadly bees, killer disco tunes and innumerable other unnatural disasters…and it’s all because of writer/actor/director Jack Plotnick and Broadway’s host with the most Seth Rudetsky. Combining their love for 70’s music and those big budget, Irwin Allen spectacles of destruction (think The Towering Inferno and Airport ’75), they’ve co-written Disaster!, a new musical parody featuring a jukebox full of the me-decades best (and worst) songs and an hysterical (both in the comedic and emotionally overwrought sense) cast of great actor/singers struggling to survive until the morning after–including Mr. Rudetsky himself.
With the show running for three more Sundays in February (5th, 12th and 26th) before it hopefully blows up to bigger things, I grabbed some quick email time with the very busy duo to toss out some questions and get their fizzy–if not earth shattering, sky falling–responses.
How did you choose the songs for the show? Was there one song you absolutely love but just couldn’t find a way to shoehorn into the show?
Jack: I love 70’s music to begin with, but while we were writing I listened to as much of it as I could, and also poured over songs lists. I, of course, considered my favorite songs from the decade first. I brought more of the rock songs to the show because I am a big fan of songs like “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “More Than A Feeling”. The songs we used had to fit the story we wanted to tell or the plot point we wanted to musicalize, but it also had to be a song that Seth and I really loved. For instance I wanted one of our characters to sing “Let Your Love Flow”; I thought it was perfect for a certain character’s growth. But, although Seth enjoyed broadening the scope of the music, he drew the line when it came to country music!
I’m so happy that we got in so many songs I’m OBSESSED with (Like “Saturday Night” and “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight”.) The one song I really wanted to find a place for, but couldn’t, was “Right Back To Where We Started From”. Such a happy song!
Seth: I’m also obsessed with that song and tried to make it work with a scene about people having to circle back to a place on the ship where they began, but none of the other lyrics made sense. Also, in the last version we had “Shop Around” but, sadly, we had to drop it because it didn’t fit in with our plot changes. But here’s a clip of how it used to be arranged. Thankfully, Carrie Manolakos sounds AMAZING on the replacement song!
Anyhoo, Drew Geraci who conceived the idea with me got a download of around 900 songs from the ’70’s. I would listen to them at the gym on the treadmill and I would obsess about a song and try to figure out a way to make it work. I loved “Knock on Wood” so much and Drew and I thought it could be the song that triggers the earthquake (because of all the knocking) but we couldn’t figure out a way to make the rest of the lyrics make sense. Then I thought of the disco diva character having a dog she might possibly have to lose (“I don’t wanna lose you…”) and then I decided to name the dog “baby” because she sings that lyric so much. It paid off in so many ways because it her relationship with her dog wound up really defining the character.
Which of the disaster movies would you most like to have acted in?
Jack: I would definitely want to be in the movie Earthquake. I love that when they want it to look like a tremor, they shake the camera and everyone flails around, pretending that the earth is shaking Hysterical! And I also think it would be fun to dodge huge pieces of falling walls and ceilings that are actually just styrofoam.
Seth: I would love Poseidon Adventure because not only is it an incredibly well-written movie with very clearly defined characters, but the acting is the kind of style I do well (incredibly BROAD). Stella Stevens is such a loud mouth and doesn’t try to do so-called film acting. ALSO, I would have taken advantage of breaks between scenes to ask Ernest Borgnine about his one-month marriage to Ethel Merman. WTF!?!?!
You are pretty kind in the number of ensemble members killed compared to many disaster flicks; why the easy touch?
Jack: We really love our characters, so it was so hard to kill any of them. But we knew a couple of them had to go. Being the sensitive guys we are, even their deaths are kinda cute and sweet. We had considered also killing Levora, but just didn’t have the heart to do it. I like a happy ending!
Seth: Jack!?!?! Cute and sweet? Have you seen the killer bee scene!?!?! I think we kill off a normal amount of characters. In these movies, there are some main characters who are killed and then numerous side characters. I think we have the perfect balance of horrific deaths.
Seth, after dissecting so many musicals, what’s it like to be involved in creating and acting in this one? Jack, as someone who is best known as an actor, what’s it like being in the writer’s hot seat; do you ever want to jump up and join everyone on stage?
Jack: I love writing with Seth. We have very similar senses of humor, but our different strengths complement each other perfectly. Some people wonder why I didn’t write a role for myself…and so do I! But I’m fine just being a writer on this. I love being in LA, doing TV and film. It’s always something new every time I perform. Besides, I love ALL these characters so much, and feel there is a piece of me in all of them, so how could I possibly just play ONE! Maybe I’ll come back and be a swing!
Seth: It’s very fun. Because I am so obsessed with minutiae, it’s perfect for me to be involved in so many aspects of this show….I get to be a complete megalomaniac/control freak, I mean, artistic partner in so many ways.
What’s your favorite musical theater disaster?
Jack: I’m obsessed with stories about onstage mistakes and blunders. And somehow, when they happen in a musical, they are all that much funnier. I guess because a musical is such a “machine” and it is meant to function perfectly and beautifully… Years ago in Los Angeles I saw a cabaret show with a big cast, and it was so terrible, but my friends and I sat through it, gamely trying to find something to appreciate. However, the show went on and on ENDLESSLY, and towards the end some skinny white girl came out and sang “Old Man River” in a really low key. And the choice of song was so strange and inappropriate, and her performance of it was so oddly earnest that we we got the giggles and were doubled over, stifling the laughs so hard that we were all CRYING. No one around us noticed, and that laugh was worth the three hours of badly performed musical theater songs.
Seth: Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is Carrie because it was so amazing and so headache-y at the same time. The score is SO good and yet the choices that were made… There’s one story I heard about a famous producer who ran into the director of Carrie before it came to Broadway. The producer told him that the movie was so scary because all these terrifying things happened at such a typical High School… it was like Grease. The director nodded enthusiastically and took the producer’s advice. Unfortunately, the word “Grease” is a homonym, and the director made the show look like it happened in GREECE! Seriously! Everything was white and the high school girls wore outfits that looked like togas. Look at the photos online!
What’s on the horizon for you both? Have you been bitten by the bug and want to write another show together?
Jack: We are still working very hard to get this show a REAL production in the city, where we perform it every night and the actors and crew get paid what they deserve. We are also continuing to make cuts and rewrites so the show is perfect! So, we haven’t given any thought to the “next one”. But I will always want to write with Seth. We’ve been writing together since ’93. He is an amazing writer, a kind soul, and he always makes me laugh!
Seth: Jack and I first met doing Pageant and we’ve been writing together ever since. I’m the dreamy one who makes plans and then fades out and he’s the one who actually opens the computer and forces us to write something. I’m disappointed that he’s not in Disaster because I love performing with him onstage. He recently had to go on for the Nun during a rehearsal and he was hilarious… Regardless, I’m looking forward to a long run of Disaster in New York one day with this amazing cast and a full orchestra!!!!
Tickets are on sale now for Disaster! at the Triad Theater (158 West 72nd). Check out Jack’s website to learn more about his other projects including his acting workshops, recent Sundance film Wrong and a sequel to his cult hit Girls Will Be Girls. Head over to Seth’s website for more info on his SiriusXM Radio Show and his young adult novel My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan.