The Toxic Avenger, which has just opened at The Arts Theatre, is never going to win any awards in the originality stakes as far as its score is concerned. It’s very much an ‘homage’ to The Rocky Horror Show, only with more annoying lyrics.
But what the score lacks – and I have to admit the score isn’t actually bad per se – Joe DiPietro’s book, pitched somewhere between The Play That Goes Wrong, and some super-filthy X-rated panto, more than makes up for, lifting the show from being merely good to being very, very, enjoyably excellent.
Although of course the delivery of the humour lies with the cast, they’d be nothing without their director, and a big shout out to Benji Sperring who has left no ‘t’ uncrossed or ‘i’ un-dotted in his quest to prise and tease every last morsel of humour out of this particularly rich and toxic pudding.
So, what’s it about? Well The Toxic Avenger was a 1984 low-budget (and very tongue in cheek) horror movie set in New Jersey and is about a nerdy high school kid who falls into a vat of toxic waste which transforms him into a (largely) benign monster, the Toxic Avenger of the title, who fights to clean up the environment.
The film became a cult hit, spawning (if that’s the right word) three sequels, and being taken up as a comic-book character and in 2008 opened as a musical in New Jersey, with book and lyrics by DiPietro, and music and lyrics by David Bryan, a New Jersey resident, and member of the rock band Bon Jovi.
Awards followed etc…
The story, such as it is, is a rather improbably love story. This is where it gets very difficult not to give away elements of the plot, so if you intend to see the show – and do, it’s excellent – stop reading this now…
The role of Toxie (Melvin the geek, made green) is played by Mark Anderson who, I can only presume, kept his mouth closed in the toxic goo, as his vocal chords are a thing of beauty to behold, his voice ranging from monstrous roar to crystal sharp rock tenor.
Toxie falls for the beautiful Sarah in the person of Emma Salvo who again ranges from sweetness to something very akin to crossing to the dark side.
The other three actors take multiple roles.
Natalie Hope charms as Toxie’s mother, and provides the pantomime villainess in the mayor of Tromaville, where the show is set, but the busiest duo in this cast of five are Che Francis a ‘Black Dude’ (it’s what it says in the programme) and Oscar Conlon-Morrey as ‘White Dude’ (ditto). Between them they take on a multiplicity of roles, with often genuinely hilarious results. My personal favourites were Sarah’s sassy friend from Francis, and Conlon-Morrey’s wandering folk singer, but the other characters really are too numerous to mention.
The production values are a definite step-change from those when it was done at Southwark Playhouse, but what I think this show has, which sometimes can be lacking in others, is a genuine feeling of wanting to make every member of the audience have a good time. The humour works on so many levels, from the quoting from and referencing other musicals – even ones which don’t open until Christmas! – to out and out slapstick…especially some very un-PC business to do with Toxie’s girlfriend, which had the audience in stitches.
Did I enjoy it? If you’ve read this far, you won’t be in any doubt. Should you go and see it? Yes, and take the office. This could well be the Christmas treat they’ve been wishing for all year.