Kerry Butler discusses the musical comedy Disaster!, her favorite 70’s icons

Adam Pascal and Kerry Butler in Disaster!

Adam Pascal and Kerry Butler in Disaster!

The ship is going to dock! There are only a few chances left to set sail with the hilarious new musical Disaster! before it closes on Broadway this Sunday, May 8.

Disaster! features an all-star cast including Kerry Butler who plays the role of feminist reporter Marianne who sets out to get to the bottom of the nonsense happening on board of the cruise liner but finds herself entangled with an old flame, played by fellow Tony Award nominee Adam Pascal.

The musical might be a love letter to disaster films from the 1970’s, and it might feature some of the decade’s best songs -including Butler’s show-stopping performance of “I Am Woman”- but it is a wickedly entertaining, often surprising, side-splitting comedy that features some of the biggest names in comedic musical theatre.

Butler sat down with Stage Door Dish to discuss her role in the hilarious musical, stepping into the shoes of Disaster!‘s straight-shooter, and backstage camaraderie.

What is it about Marianne that appeals most to you?

She was written as the straight person in the show, but in this show, even the straight people should be funny. It was fun that they let me be creative in that way and find different things. I love that it’s a very different part for me, playing such a strong woman. I love doing parts that require research, where I had to watch all these movies from the 70s, like Jane Fonda being her bad self as a journalist. Seth [Rudetsky] would recommend movies for me to watch, which was fun.

Which scene would you say is your favorite?

I think my favorite is doing ‘I Am Woman’ and the scene with Baylee [Littrell] because when you’re drunk, you get to do whatever you want, so I can mix that up every night. You don’t know if I’m on cold medicine, or one night I had a concussion and did the scene and found all this new stuff. It’s fun to be drunk in a scene, because you’re completely free, anything can happen.

I want to talk about Adam as a scene partner. Did you know each other before?

We had done readings together of different shows and we had done concerts, but I didn’t know him very well.

What’s he like to play off of?

First of all, he’s a great person. He volunteered to be our Equity deputy, which you would never think he would do. He’s so sweet, he never complains about anything, he takes people’s concerns very seriously and takes his job as deputy seriously. Working with him is so easy. There’s no drama. I do a lot more research than he does, and he says ‘Yeah, I’ll do whatever you want. You want to make stuff up? We’ll make stuff up!’ It’s his first comedy, so he’s always watching people from the wings and wanting to learn about comedy. He is very funny, and he found a lot of funny things in this show. When he’s on the floor after he sings that big ballad, that was all him. He came up with that.

What’s been one of the best ad-libs that an actor has brought into the show?

Roger Bart makes us die every night. That’s the hardest part of my job, keeping a straight face. Sometimes he’ll make Adam crack up, which makes me crack up. I try to keep a straight face. I lost it one time because I tripped. I don’t think I’ve lost it because of Roger, I’ve kept it together. Sometimes he’ll improvise things, but usually it’s just different line readings, or weird pauses he takes, or different things he does, like gestures with the shark fins on his hands. One night I tripped over my own feet during the show at a moment when you should not trip, and so I tried to keep it together, then Adam started laughing, and I started laughing so much I couldn’t sing. After that happened, Roger started tripping over everything anytime he was in a scene. He does things like that.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10_51_15 PMWho is your favorite 70s icon?

I grew up listening to Donna Summer, so she is definitely it for me. Also Olivia Newton John, but I would play Donna Summer’s album all the time.

How would you survive in a real disaster situation?

I feel like I would rely on the kindness of others. I was once in a plane and they thought we were going to crash, and I was actually pretty calm. I was just going through my life, like ‘Okay, I’ve had a good life.’

What is it like sharing a dressing room with Rachel Yorke?

We talk about our kids all the time. There’s no drama backstage because everyone is so happy to be working. We’ve all been in the business a long time, so we’re not jealous of each other, we’re not like ‘Oh, they’re getting a bigger laugh than me,’ or ‘Oh, they’re getting more press than me.’ Everybody is just supportive of each other and wants to make the show better and wants to make the show run. It’s just a great environment backstage.

Why would you suggest people go see Disaster?

People tell me, ‘I’ve never laughed so much in a show, from start to finish. My stomach hurts from laughing so hard.’ It’s just a great array of talent on stage. All these people who you’ve seen in a million shows, you get to see them all together. The music is great. I love all these songs. It makes me happy to be in this show, just so hear these songs and sing them backstage when everyone else is singing them onstage.

Seth is such an icon in the theatre community. What have you learned from him?

I’ve been friends with Seth forever. We grew up together as kids. I’m so happy for him. It’s a real example of how dreams can come true. He’s someone who’s older in the business, he’s loved theatre all his life, and he’s been in one Broadway show. He wrote this show, and he’s worked so hard. Everything was a struggle when they were off-Broadway to get an audience. He’s been doing everything. He’s listening in the wings to give people music notes, he’s listening to whether jokes land. He’ll come to me and say, ‘Maybe you should pronounce this word better because the joke isn’t landing.’ He’s always wearing two hats. He takes everything seriously. He got this show to Broadway, which is amazing. I was happiest for Seth and Jack through all the early stages. It’s one of those stories that can inspire everybody else because they’re getting their dream. You can’t give up, because Seth is in his 40s, and so many people would give up before then.

I want to talk about your backstage traditions, like the Easter egg hunt. Why is that camaraderie so important to you? Why do you go the extra mile to do things like that?

I always think it’s important that, as a company, we all get along and love each other. I think the audience can feel that, and it affects how we behave on stage. I do it for selfish reasons, mainly because if I’m going to be stuck doing shows on Easter, I want it to be fun. That’s how I started doing it. I try to make the backstage environment fun, because if you’re going to be with these people 7 days a week, and you’re doing press on your day off, you want to make sure you like each other.

Have you always been into holidays? What’s your favorite?

Christmas. I always love doing Secret Santa during shows, that’s one of my favorites. The first time I did it was when I did my European tour of Oklahoma. We were in Germany, and I was right out of college and not spending Christmas with my family. We ended up having this amazing time, because you would end up finding things on your bus seat and in all different places in the theatre. Then we had Christmas dinner together. It was my first Christmas dinner without my family, but it was still a really good time, so that’s probably why I started doing this stuff.

Marianne is a journalist; if you were to become a writer, what subject would you want to focus on?

I would do something involving activism, maybe on education for kids, or the environment, or, since I’m a vegetarian, maybe something on health. I also like politics, but I don’t think I’m smart enough to cover that.

I want to ask about Clinton: The Musical, which you did before Disaster!. Have you had the chance to meet Hillary or follow her campaign?

I never had the chance to meet Hillary. I think her campaign was a little bit afraid of our show. I heard that she sent people to the show and they liked it. I didn’t think she should see the show anyway- not that she came off in a bad light at all- it was very pro-Hillary but making fun of her at the same time. It covered the affair and things like that, and that’s not something anyone would want to live through and then watch on stage. I didn’t think it would be healthy for her to see it. I’ve met Bill. I have pictures with Bill Clinton, but I never met Hillary. Doing all that research, I am a huge Hillary supporter. I’ve read tons of books on her, and I think she is the real deal. When you’re in someone’s shoes, you feel compassion for them.

How has being a mother changed the way you approach your career?

It makes the decisions about what show you’re going to take more important. I have to decide if it’s worth it to be away from my kids, because they miss me when I don’t tuck them in at night, and I would love to have the summers off to be with them. Also, I have to work on my focus, because they need my attention.

If you could step into any current show other than Disaster, which would you pick?

I’m probably not right for it now, but I’ve always wanted to be in The Robber Bridegroom. Not the Leslie Kritzer part; I’ve done readings as Rosamund. I love the songs, they fit so well in my voice. I’m definitely going to see it.

If you were not an actress, what would you want to do?

I would be a kindergarten teacher because I love kids.

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About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald

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