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A CurtainUp Review
The Toxic Avenger Musical
Despite its claim to being the sole interpretation of the horror-comedy about a nerd who becomes an avenging monster, The Toxic Avenger Musical is certainly not the only musical to seek its fortune on a sci-fi, self-referential platform. Creators Joe DiPietro and David Bryan carefully trace the footsteps of such popular tongue-in-cheek tuners as Reefer Madness, The Rocky Horror Show, Bat-Boy, and Little Shop of Horrors; and, as in Wicked and Shrek, the central creature glows bright green (although this one also oozes a little).
With crisp direction by John Rando (a Tony-winner for Urinetown) and a megawatt performance by Nancy Opel (Tony-nominated for her role in Urinetown), The Toxic Avenger Musical ultimately feels a bit recycled, but fortunately, it's been created from some quality pre-used materials. What makes this monster musical memorable certainly isn't its predictable story—instead, a trio of top-notch supporting performances catapult this Toxic Avenger from derivative to dynamic.
The plot in brief: when Melvin Ferd the Third (Nick Cordero) is plunged into a vat of toxic waste by two local bullies, he emerges as a crime-fighting, waste-avenging monster, soaked with slime and oozing with strength. Dubbed "Toxie" by his blind girlfriend, Sarah (Sara Chase), he struggles to free Tromaville, a New Jersey town and toxic-waste dumping ground, from the evil clutches of the duplicitous Mayor Babs Belgoody (Opel). The other residents of the rather unpopulated Tromaville include Melvin's mother (also played by Opel), and various other denizens brought to life by the White Dude and Black Dude (Matthew Salvidar and Demond Green, respectively, in a multitude of excellent characterizations).
The fantastic band is placed atop a mound of the toxic-waste barrels that smother the landscape, and they look as if they are poised to rock out. However, composer David Bryan (best known as the keyboardist of Bon Jovi) keeps the music on the softer side. He certainly dips into an edgier sound, but most often he pulls out a softer-core "musical-theater rock" quality that quickly evaporates. Toxie's ballads, in particular, including the saccharine "You Tore My Heart Out," are smoothly emotive without exposing any gritty substance underneath. And lyricist Joe DiPietro, who penned the easy-listening fare for I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, contributes rhymes that don't really rock and roll: "When your face looks decayed/it's hard to get laid."
Overall, the show is best in its most pointed (and potently performed) musical numbers. Opel and Green dazzle on the steamy, sadistic tango "Evil is Hot", especially under Kenneth Posner's fiery, evocative lighting design. And Chase's big solos (the poppy "My Big French Boyfriend" and the non-sequitur "Choose Me, Oprah", about her burgeoning book career) take off only when her back-up singers appear. As Sarah's best friends Shinequa and Diane (in stylish drag to match), Green and Saldivar tear up the stage with Wendy Seyb's funky, fresh choreography.
But it's Opel who most thoroughly sends up this send-up show. With her precise comic timing, piercingly high vocals, and voracious stage presence, she sends out bolts of electricity every time she strides across the stage. She especially sizzles in "Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore", in which she improbably (and magnificently) executes a duet with herself (as the feuding Mayor and Ma Ferd). Here, the music is at its most penetrating, forceful, and memorable, showcasing Opel as a dynamo who can cut through even the most derivative of material with ease.
Chase—who, along with Green and Saldivar, is a new addition to the cast—delivers a sweet performance (and powerhouse vocals) as the sight-challenged Sarah, even as she has to wrestle with an unending sequence of blind jokes that grow tired by the end of the show. The Sarah/Toxie duet, "Hot Toxic Love," is filled with enough, well, sight gags to easily saturate the 90-minute production.
Along with the endless and aimless blind jokes, the social-justice themes of the show also feel a bit strained by the end. After opening with the mournful anthem "Who Will Save New Jersey?" the show ends with the spirited "A Brand New Day in New Jersey" (complete with jazz hands a'waving). Toxie, it seems, is the one who will bring an end to toxic dumping in New Jersey. But who will reckon with "the beautiful, conceited people of Manhattan" (so skillfully skewered earlier in the show)?
In his review of the NJ production, Simon Saltzman wondered if The Toxic Avenger Musical could make it in New York. Judging by the raucous crowd on the night I attended, the show certainly has its fans, but few, I would guess, are likely to change their environmental habits based on this show. Perhaps the message would resonate a bit more forcefully if it were delivered in an edgier, more persuasive style, but this recycled green machine of a musical is all too easy to mindlessly enjoy, then toss into the blue plastic bin on the way out of the theater.
To read the NJ review and compare the songs used there and now go here