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Laughing in the face of ‘Disaster’ at The South Simcoe Theatre (10 photos)

'Ridiculous fun' on stage in Cookstown is inspired response to two years of pandemic

The second show in The South Simcoe Theatre's 2021-2022 season opens tonight: Disaster the musical, by Seth Rudestsky and Jack Plotnick.

“Given the fact that we’ve all just come through one, I thought it was an inspired choice,” says Director Stephen Bainborough. “It pays homage to those old disaster movies (of the 1970s) – Earthquake, Poseidon Adventure, Jaws, Towering Inferno.”

And, he says, “It’s just ridiculously fun!” – much needed after more than two years of pandemic.

The storyline is a mash-up of every blockbuster disaster movie of the era: It’s opening night at New York City’s first floating casino, the Barracuda, where owner Tony Delvecchio (SST regular Kevin Scharf) welcomes celebrity guests – who come aboard unaware that, strapped for cash, Tony has cut corners on safety.

They also don't know that the pier at which the ship is moored is built on top of a hidden fault line.

A small core of characters will eventually face a life-or-death struggle against earthquakes, tidal waves that flip the ship upside down, explosions, fire, falling chandeliers, piranhas, and more.

Disaster has a big cast – 17 players in all – but the key roles are straight from the best of the big blockbuster movies.

Professor Ted Scheider (played by Stephen Dobby) is the international Disaster Expert who tries to warn guests and crew that an earthquake is imminent.

Lounge singer Jackie (Julie Underhill) is looking for someone who will love her and her twins Lisa and Ben (both played by Ella Hamilton, at times simultaneously).

Washed-up disco queen Levora Verona (Lindsay Cadieux-Stephen) is down to her last quarter. It is her slot machine jackpot win that will finally trigger the earthquake.

Star-crossed lovers, feminist Marianne Wilson (Jessica Corner) and swinger-with-a-broken-heart Chad (Keelan Ballantyne), were parted at the altar, divided by Marianne’s pursuit of a career.

Elderly retired couple Maury (Russ Clayton) and wife Shirley (Ann Johnston), on vacation, are still very much in love, although Shirley is hiding the fact that she has a fatal and utterly hilarious condition.

Sister Mary Downy (Kristen Alary) is torn between her two loves - Jesus, and a gambling addition.

“It is a parody,” says Bainborough, and outrageously funny. “You can kind of throw everything at it, and it sort of sticks.”

He admits that some of the younger members of the cast initially didn’t ‘get’ some of the references, or recognize the lines from famous movies that the authors have slipped into the dialogue. His solution: “You send them off to watch the videos!”

In the end, he says, “I think the cast has really embraced it” – finding that balance between emotional intensity and parody that makes for great comedy.

Disaster is a “jukebox musical.” Rather than original songs, it draws on the playlist of the 1970s pop charts to bridge story lines and highlight the characters.

“Songs everyone knows,” says Bainborough. “I’d be surprised if people don’t sing along.”

With big hair, big music, a big production, Disaster is simply laugh-out-loud funny. The talented cast makes the most of their outrageous lines and scenes, and the play is filled with unexpectedly delightful and memorable musical moments, from Chad’s rendition of ‘Without You’, to Levora Verona belting out the hits, and Sister Mary Downy’s heartfelt ‘Never Can Say Goodbye,’ sung to a slot machine.

Ella Hamilton is a delight as twins Ben and Lisa, with some pretty clever solutions to the challenge of being on stage in both roles at the same time.

There were also some unique challenges in putting on the show, Bainborough acknowledges. “Trying to put on a show during COVID was really hard. The first month of rehearsal was on Zoom.”

When the cast finally got together to rehearse in-person on stage, the actors wore face masks. It wasn’t until the final two dress rehearsals that the masks came off, and “I saw everyone’s faces,” he says.

Opening night is May 5, and Bainborough and the cast are ready.

“We are actually really excited. This is a giant machine that has so many moving parts – all the parts are coming together.” He adds, “Leave your brain at the door and have fun... I mean, after the last two years, what could possibly go wrong?”

Disaster is at The South Simcoe Theatre, 1 Hamilton St. in Cookstown, from May 5 to 22, with 8 p.m. performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. matinees on Sundays. Tickets are $26 per person, available by calling the Box Office, 705-458-4432 or emailing boxoffice@thesouthsimcoetheatre.com

Note: ‘Out of an abundance of caution,’ and to protect season ticket holders, The South Simcoe Theatre is maintaining COVID protocols, requiring audience members to provide proof of vaccination, and remain masked. The theatre is also at half-capacity for the remainder of this season – but hopes to be able to drop COVID restrictions for 2022-2023.