At World’s End: How Barn Theatre finds success in variety and disaster

Typically in theater, when something goes wrong, it’s not the end of the world. Disaster! is one huge exception.

The musical focuses on a group of New Yorkers attending the opening of a floating casino and discotheque that quickly succumbs to multiple disasters. These calamities correlate with plots of various disaster films of the 1970s such as earthquakes or killer bee incidents echoing situations from the films Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno and The Swarm.

Also a jukebox musical, Disaster! is full of songs from the same era those movies were released, including Knock On Wood, Hooked On A Feeling, Sky High, I Am Woman, Hot Stuff and I Will Survive.

This fun, out-there musical garnered praise when it premiered in 2012 and fits right in with Barn Theatre’s summer season, according to Penelope Alex Ragotzy and her husband, Brendan, co-owners of the Barn.

“It’s so campy and fun and I think it will be a lot of fun for our audiences,” Penelope Ragotzy said. “We like to do these campy musicals.”

While older audience members will remember hearing these songs — many of which were played ad nauseum by radio DJs — it’s a safe bet that they are not on the playlists of millennials. But Penelope Ragotzy said the couple’s four children, who are millennials, and others in this age group recognize the songs even though they may not have seen the disaster movies that served as the inspiration for the musical.

Brendan Ragotzy said he thinks those who may not have been alive when this movie genre hit the big screen will likely have had some exposure because of the sequels and remakes of these movies. Plenty of songs from the ’70s have found their way into TV commercials.

The musical features a cast of 11 in their 20s, including a young boy who will play the roles of a twin brother and sister.

The idea to feature the musical in the Barn’s 2018 lineup came while the Ragotzys were perusing offerings from leasing houses.

“What we found was so up our alley,” Penelope Ragotzy said. “I saw the disco ball and I was hooked — line and sinker. The company is very excited about it.”

Variety is one of the key elements when the couple is making decisions about what to include in their annual schedule.

“I really think you have to have variety and do quality work. You can’t strictly do family shows and adult shows per se,” Brendan Ragotzy said.

The core storylines of their adaptations stay true to the originals, which Brendan Ragotzy said is sometimes not what audience members were expecting.

“Nowadays, it’s buyer beware,” he said. “If you don’t know the product, you’ve got to do your research.”

As an example, he said some audience members who attended their production of Grease were expecting to see a version based on the movie with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.

“Grease was a lot different than that when it first came out,” Brendan Ragotzy said.

The couple also said they don’t pick shows for their company of actors.

“The nature of summerstock is playing all of these different roles,” Brendan Ragotzy said. “That’s the beauty of being an actor here, because you’re stretched in so many different directions.”

“They don’t know what roles they’ll be playing in until they get here,” Penelope Ragotzy said.

This year’s theater company is made up of about 50 actors from as far away as Arizona and California and as close as Kalamazoo. When not part of a cast in a production, they can be found doing any number of tasks such as staffing the Barn’s box office, maintaining the grounds or working the Rehearsal Shed.

The couple’s off-season is spent looking over resumes of actors who want to spend a summer at the Barn perfecting their craft. They also travel to see these applicants in live theater productions. This year, they received more than 100 resumes and Penelope Ragotzy said the decision-making was a challenge.

“They are wonderful, especially this season,” she said of the theater company. “They come in blind and with a lot of faith that we’re going to use them.”

Barn Theatre
13351 W. M-96, Augusta
Aug. 28-Sept. 2