Creating the Surprise of the season: An Interview with the Producers of "Disaster!"

David Roberts

OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic


One of the bigger surprises of this season has been Disaster!, the musical inspired by the disaster films of the 1970's infused with pop and disco songs. While a show like this, on paper, might not be well received. It was hailed by critics from the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly and OnStage as well. 

We had a chance to sit down with the producers of the show, Jim Burba and Bob Hayes and talk about how they discovered the show and what the future holds for it after its announced closing on July 3rd. 

1.    What attracted you to “Disaster!?” Did you see the Off Broadway production?

It’s kind of a long story, but one we like to tell because it relates to our principle that “everyone you know knows someone you should know” (that’s one of Bob’s sayings. We call it a Bobism). Several years ago we had a cocktail party for our friend Lorna Luft (Judy Garland’s daughter/Liza Minnelli’s sister) at our place in Palm Springs. Lorna was getting a humanitarian award at a big gala for Desert AIDS Project. Seth Rudetsky was performing at the gala, and Lorna asked us if we would invite Seth to the party. We did, and he brought his friend Jack Plotnick along with him. We got to talking with Jack, one thing led to another and we ended up co-producing Jack’s film Space Station 76 that starred Matt Bomer, Liv Tyler, and Patrick Wilson. It was during the time with Space Station 76 that Jack talked about the Off-Broadway show, Disaster! that he and Seth wrote together. Jack mentioned they had plans to bring the show to Broadway. Having worked with Jack on the film, we were interested in exploring a trip to Broadway. We flew to New York, saw the Off-Broadway show, loved it, and signed on almost immediately.

2.    The cast of “Disaster!” is outstanding. Do you think the cast members will be able to commit to the project for the long run?

Well, we have the Nederlander Theatre until July 3rd. Another show was already booked there when we were offered the theatre, so we knew going in that we would have a limited run. Our cast is definitely committed to the show for the duration.

3.    Is “Disaster!” solely a star vehicle or will its success continue as the cast changes?

Our cast is amazing, and each of them brings so much to their character. But you know, the songs are great, the take-off on disaster movies of the 1970s is so fun and funny that we think the show will appeal to a lot of people for a long time no matter who is in the cast. Even after it leaves Broadway, we expect to see “Disasters” popping up all over the place.

4.    How much did the “power cast” influence your decision to produce “Disaster!?”

We were onboard at the beginning, before any of the cast was in place. We did have two staged readings of the show more than a year ago. One in Los Angeles and one in New York. Both were fundraisers for The Actors Fund. A lot of our current cast appeared in the readings, so we kind of had an idea of where we were headed. And when are star power fell into place and became a reality, magic happened. Everyone was super excited, and we were just that more committed to making the Broadway show happen.

5.    Do you see “Disaster!” as a “finished” product or do you think Seth and Jack will continue to develop the show?

We’re not sure if a show is ever really “finished.” There are always tweaks here and there. It will depend where the show goes after Broadway. A full stage production is one thing, a Las Vegas spectacular is another, as is a movie version. We do know the 70s songs will carry on forever. The campy 1970s movies will always be around. Who knows, maybe Seth and Jack will write a sequel about the 1980s. Disaster! 2.

I finally asked about their commitment to the show for the long term. 

We love the show. We love the cast and creative team, and we have such a dedicated group of producers. When you have all of that going for you, it makes the experience so rich and rewarding. We are proud producers.

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