Fires, earthquakes and destructive tidal waves aren't usually laughing matters, but camp it up in a theater as an homage to the disaster films of the 1970s and the audience is sure to have a good time, even if the characters are not.
Opening this weekend, Ovation Theatre's latest production "Disaster!" is a musical spoof of those films and revels in the ridiculous. Taking place in a 1979 Manhattan casino/disco called the Barracuda, all manner of disasters happen as the characters try to survive.
The theater's artistic director Hal Friedman said any disaster film one could think of will be poked fun at, including "Earthquake," "The Towering Inferno" and "The Poseidon Adventure."
"Like a Mel Brooks spoof, 'Disaster!' pokes fun at all the crazy mischief in those old movies," Friedman said in an email. "All the characters one would expect are there: an old couple, even a nun ... but this nun is addicted to gambling. There are twins that are never seen on stage together, played by the same actor. There's a scientist, a lounge singer, a greedy business owner, all sorts. But these characters all have hilarious quirks that make fun of their roles in those movies."
Those characters include professor and "disaster expert" Ted (Rikk Cheshire), caterers Chad (Derreck Reed) and Scott (Dominic Demay), reporter Marianne (Nichole Michelle), lounge singer Jackie (Erica Kimmel) and her twins Ben and Lisa (Ellie King) and Sister Mary Downey (Rene Cleek).
If the play's '70s references pre-date some audience members, the show still will be fun, Friedman said.
"I don't think anyone has to have knowledge of the old films other than knowing they exist and that 'disaster movies' were a genre that, in its day, was as popular as any super hero film," he said.
Director and designer Jason McClain (who also plays Tony, the owner of the Barracuda) had his work cut out for him in putting on this show.
"I don't want to give too much away, but this show has a set that certainly goes through some ... well, disasters," Friedman said. "So we had to creatively craft a set that could be destroyed over and over again."
Friedman said everything about "Disaster!" is done with a campy wink and not to be taken too seriously. That meant the theater could have some fun when figuring out some of the unique challenges in bringing disasters to the stage.
"There are some sharks that make an appearance that one won't soon forget, oh and a tank full of piranha that will steal the show," he said. "As far as spectacle goes, this show certainly presented challenges that the creative staff involved took as a challenge and ran with. I'm excited to see the audience's reaction to all this."
Adding to the fun is the music, with characters performing songs of the decade, including "You're My Best Friend," "Three Times A Lady" and "Hooked on a Feeling."
"But it's not just another jukebox musical," Friedman said. "'Disaster!' uses the songs to enhance the hilariousness of the show. (Creator) Seth Rudetsky was very specific in the songs he chose to tell this story but the audience will know."
"Disaster!" was written by Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick, premiering off-Broadway in 2012 and on Broadway in 2016. Friedman noted that part of the appeal of the play is Rudetsky, who is beloved in the theater world.
"It's a brand new, never been done before in Bakersfield, show!" Friedman said. "And that is exciting to us. We love when we can either introduce something new to Bakersfield or at least present a show in a new way."
Additionally, the play "really is just so damn funny," he said.
Friedman said a blockbuster like "Disaster!" is a great way to kick off the summer.
"People should come for some great music, belly laughs and just a great night out," he said. "'Disaster!' is strictly entertainment in the the most enjoyable sense. This won't change your life, or challenge you — there is of course a time and place for that — but 'Disaster!' says check your brain at the door, grab a drink at our Stage Left Bar and have a great time."