Review: The Toxic Avenger
Image: Arts Theatre
Ben Irish (Melvin/Toxie)
Natalie Hope (Mayor)
Emma Salvo (Sarah)
Oscar Conlon-Morrey (White Dude)
Ché Francis (Black Dude)
(Mark Anderson as Toxie was replaced on 7 Nov by Ben Irish)
Toxie is a seven-foot mutant freak with superhuman strength and a supersized heart to match.
He's out to save New Jersey, end global warming, win the heart of the prettiest (blindest) librarian in town and get home in time for dinner in this toxic love story with an environmental twist.
Based on the 1984 cult classic, The Toxic Avenger tells the story of the citizens of Tromaville who are crying out for a hero.
Enter Melvin Ferd the Third, an aspiring earth scientist determined to clean up the toxic waste problem.
When a corrupt Mayor and her government goons get wind of his plans, they vow to stop this heroic feat, Melvin is tossed into a vat of toxic waste, and transformed into The Toxic Avenger, New Jersey’s first superhero!
Following a sold-out UK premiere at Southwark Playhouse where it received 6 Off West End Award nominations including Best New Musical, cult rock musical The Toxic Avenger is transferring to the Arts Theatre for a strictly limited season.
From Joe DiPetro and David Bryan (original founding member and keyboardist/vocalist for Bon Jovi), the Tony Award-winning team behind the hit West End musical ‘Memphis’, this acclaimed rock musical dubbed “an intoxicating blast of fun” by The Daily Telegraph in their 5-star rave review and the Daily Express says ‘“To anyone that has seen the Book of Mormon, this is a must-see younger brother of a show”.
A rather long opening number sets both the scene and the tone for this musical which has already had a sell-out run with its UK premiere at Southwark Playhouse, and now finds itself alongside the big-name and long-running shows in the heart of the West End.
It's a show that's "not for the easily terrified" we're told in the intro scene, yet that's all part of the tongue-in-cheek approach that is pretty much the hallmark of this jocund concoction that finds it hard, if not completely impossible to be really too serious about very much.
But there are some important issues underlying the basic story, for example the problem of disposing the waste that we humans churn-out in alarming and ever-increasing volumes.
And that is the basic issue for New Jersey - "the garden state" - which finds itself turned into the dumping ground for the detritus of the rich of Manhattan thanks to the efforts of the Good Earth Company - which really turns out to be an evil conglomerate interested only in turning waste into massive wads of profit.
Not surprisingly, then, huge sewer pipes are the dominant fixtures on the set here, effected with considerable ingenuity by designer takis.
These enormous pipes swing open at various times to provide the fittings of the many locations the action fetches-up in, including a cafe (where the drinks on offer are named after West End shows) and a library.
And it's in this latter location where we discover librarian Sarah, who may not be everyone's ideal choice to land a job in the world of the written word ... because she's blind.
And that means her book-stamping skills and her book-shelving talents are, well, less than perfect shall we say.
Of course, Sarah's lack of sight gives rise to considerable mirth through numerous jokes ... even though laughing at someone's substantial and poignant handicap seems a little indelicate.
It's in the library where Sarah meets the show's hero - the geekish Melvin who later becomes the Toxic Avenger - Toxie for short - through being dumped into a pipe full of gunky waste.
Much of the comedy throughout this show arises from the fact that the other numerous characters involved in the plot are all played by a team of three actors who effect lightening costume changes to bring us the town mayor, police, hairdressers, Toxie's mum, cafe owners and the like.
Analysing the overall subject matter, character motivations, plot developments and the like is of little significance here for this is one of those shows with comedy at its heart.
So don't expect huge intellectual demands being placed on your overloaded brain at the end of a long, hard day at work - this is a comically congenial musical that is simply meant to entertain, and it does that pretty much in spades.
And there are plenty of jokes on offer, though more so in the first half than the second, where I got the distinct impression of steam running out a little in terms of both plot and comedic ideas, even if there's still enough to keep the laughs flowing fairly constantly.
You can expect, however, a band on top-notch form and some well-composed, hummable songs delivered by a highly capable cast equipped with very fine voices.
Brash and brassy, risqué on occasion and sometimes very funny, this is a madcap musical that pulls all the right strings to make for a frivolously fun evening.
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