It's hard to put into words what it's like to watch Disaster!, a musical throwback to an era of 1970s hits and free-flowing entertainment. It's so hard, I decided to turn the task over to Jennifer Simard, one of the shining stars of the ensemble cast. Simard responded to my questions via email.
Q: You play the role of Sister Mary, who appears to be more complicated than on the face of it. So what's with this nun?
Simard: Your observation is correct. She is more complicated than her outer shell. My favorite thing about her and people in general is the dark nougaty center. Someone has to be the worst nun right? Someone had to finish last in med school for example.
In terms of my made-up backstory, I think Sr. Mary Downy chose to become a nun in the hopes it would fix her addiction. While she genuinely loves the Lord, and therein lies her struggle, she is bad at the education of becoming a nun, hence her phonetical pronunciation of Jesus and her lack of memory regarding her psalms. She also has trouble with social skills and I think she clearly has high bone density in order to endure her clumsy nature and frequent falls.
Q: I have to ask: Is there an underlying message buried in this show about religion in the wake of catastrophe?
Simard: This is a question only the writers may truly answer but as an actress, I think so. In my Act 2 scene with Shirley, portrayed by the wonderful Faith Prince, I say my gambling caused this catastrophe, aka "God's vengeance." Shirley snaps me out of my guilt by telling me I didn't cause anything. I think you sometimes hear mirrored rumblings of this type of thing when actual natural catastrophes happen and it is my belief, this is not true. I do not believe natural catastrophes are the Lord's way of smiting individuals or society.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel Photography.
Q: Although most of the humor is light and deliberately campy, your best lines require strong comedic timing and pitch-perfect delivery. Was it hard to get it all just right?
Simard: I love this question and consider comedy a science. It is such a delicate creature. Quite a bit of the comedy in this show is dependent upon the negative space, not the vase of flowers in the painting but the air around it. We are very dependent on our scene partners. We have to set each other up and throw a slow, fat softball across the plate then watch each other hit it out of the park. You often just have to stand there sometimes, holding for the laugh aka the negative space. As Kevin Chamberlin says "ride the wave." We truly play doubles tennis up there as a cast and when you work that way, magic happens.
The music is a throwback to another era, the 1970s. It's a unique blend, with selections for the score erring on the side of the unexpected. What do you think that music selection add to the overall show?
Simard: Seth Rudetsky is obsessed with 70's music and he has impeccable taste. The music is SO good and is worked into the scene work ingeniously. You have pop, disco, rock, and with the voices in my cast, it is thrilling to hear. I am ecstatic to have the opportunity to sing the way I love yet have rarely had the opportunity to - high scream rock! My inner Steven Tyler is so fulfilled.
Q: The seemingly manic pace of the show adds to both the drama and the levity. Is it hard to keep up on a nightly basis, or does it become clockwork for the cast?
Simard: It is hard and not at all clockwork. Our brilliant director Jack Plotnick is always stressing maintaining the stakes of the show. Without them, you just wouldn't care about the characters nearly as much. We are lucky to be helmed by such a smart man.