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Kevin Chamberlin works with old friends on Broadway musical 'Disaster!'

By
Karen Butler
Kevin Chamberlin arrives at the In Here, Life is Beautiful Roundabout Theatre Company Spring Gala in New York City on March 10, 2014. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Kevin Chamberlin arrives at the "In Here, Life is Beautiful" Roundabout Theatre Company Spring Gala in New York City on March 10, 2014. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, March 25 (UPI) -- Broadway icon Kevin Chamberlin says he is having a blast working with his old friends Roger Bart and Seth Rudetsky on their celebrated new stage musical Disaster!

Set on a doomed, floating casino, the sendup of 1970s catastrophe movies features dozens of hit songs from the era, including "Hot Stuff," "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight," "Still the One," "Never Can Say Goodbye," "Don't Cry Out Loud," "I Am Woman" and "Torn Between Two Lovers."

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Bart plays the casino's scheming owner, who ignores warnings of danger at every turn, while the show's co-creator Rudetsky portrays a resourceful scientist trying to save the passengers from constant peril. Chamberlin and Faith Prince play a long-married, still-in-love couple, who serve as the heart of the story.

Rounding out the ensemble are Kerry Butler, Adam Pascal, Rachel York, Jennifer Simard and newcomer Baylee Littrell, who is the son of Backstreet Boys singer Brian Littrell.

Asked how the musical has evolved since it debuted off-Broadway with another cast, Chamberlin told UPI in a recent phone interview, "We wanted to root it more in reality."

He gave as an example how the latest incarnation shows most of the characters, including his wife, have something to hide, but, in another twist, it turns out he really knows his spouse's secret and is just waiting for her to tell him.

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"There's little touches like that we've added," the 52-year-old Maryland native explained. "Roger has come up with a lot of his little bits. Roger is quite the clown. Roger Bart. He and I actually went to college together at Rutgers. We've known each since 1981 -- a long time. So, we're old buds and we did a Broadway show with Seth back in 1997 called Triumph of Love. We have a lot of history. ... But, really, trained actors, we are always looking to root everything in a reality and so there were a lot of justifying moments going, 'Oh, if I'm going to say this line, we need to add this line here,' or 'Let's try this way.' We were just fine-tuning it and, so, I think it is a really tight script. It really zooms along now."

And, yes, Chamberlin confirmed, the cast is having as much fun performing Disaster! as the theatergoers watching it.

"Doing a parody, a farce, you have to totally commit to that and be in that genre," Chamberlin emphasized. "It's a heightened, campy genre. If you aren't fully committed to it, the audience doesn't go on the journey with you, as well."

Also known for his performances in The Addams Family, Seussical and My Favorite Year, Chamberlin said another appealing aspect of Disaster! is that it is chock-full of music he listened to as a kid.

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"The first 45 [record] that I bought was 'And I'd Really Love to See You Tonight,' that song," he laughed, singing. "So, that brought back a flood of memories. And every single song [in Disaster!] This was the soundtrack to my childhood. The whole score."

So, did he immediately know how to play his good-guy, working-class character Maury when Rudetsky gave him the script?

"I heard his voice when I read it," the actor recalled. "I sort of picture him as sort of a mixture of Ernest Borgnine and Jack Albertson from The Poseidon Adventure with a little vaudevillian in him. ... There are archetypes in the show, so everyone has someone to relate to. The kids have little Baylee Littrell to relate to, who is doing double duty playing the twins. ... He's like 13 going on 40."

Chamberlin is no stranger to working with talented, young actors since he also is a cast member of the TV sitcom Jessie.

"They teach me so much. I teach them," he noted. "They teach me how to get back to that childhood, creative, kid-in-a sandbox mentality -- to be playful and take risks and then I taught all the kids on Jessie a lot of stuff because I directed episodes, as well. ... It really is about the imagination and putting yourself in another person's place and finding the joy in it, as well. A lot of actors get so introspective and I really wanted to instill that sense of joy in the kids when I was working with them on Jessie."

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Disaster! is now playing at the Nederlander Theatre in New York City.

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