The Theatreguide.London Review
The Toxic Avenger
Arts Theatre Autumn 2017
Hilarious, high-energy, silly, trivial, inventive, derivative – this musical version of the 1985 ultra-low-budget monster film that developed a so-bad-it's-good cult reputation is instantly forgettable once it's over but irresistible while you're watching it.
In the tradition and self-spoofing mode of The Rocky Horror Show and Little Shop Of Horrors, the musical (book by Joe DiPietro, music by David Bryan, lyrics by both) plays with the conventions and cliches of the genre.
In a pollution-filled New Jersey town nerdy Melvin yearns for lovely blonde Sarah, a blind librarian – the gag is typical of the show's humour level, and if it bothers you, stop right now.
High school bullies push him into a vat of toxic gunk, and he comes out big, muscular, deformed and green, a bit like a trimmed-down Lou Ferrigno Hulk. He woos the girl, fights the evil mayor and her various henchmen, and cleans up New Jersey, a challenge that would daunt Hercules.
The fun comes in the over-the-top playing by everybody and by the self-reflexive humour that, for example, has the supposedly blind girl constantly in danger of falling off the stage.
Mark Anderson plays Toxie as a mix of Superman ultra-straightness and Spiderman troubled teen. Emma Salvo subverts convention by making the girl considerably less sexless and virginal than we expect.
And a major running gag of the show has Natalie Hope, Che Francis and Oscar Conlon-Morrey playing Everyone Else.
Hope gets all the big show-stopping numbers as either the evil mayor or the hero's remarkably adaptable mother, and at least once by both, in a very funny quick-change duet.
Francis and Conlon-Murray are at various times bullies, corrupt cops, gay hairdressers, female hairdressers, a mad scientist, a folk singer and several others, the absurdity of the costume and wig changes part of the fun.
DiPietro and Bryan's songs are more clever in concept – with titles like Get The Geek, Thank God She's Blind, All Men Are Freaks and Hot Toxic Love – than in execution. The lyrics, when you can hear them (muddy elocution being endemic to everyone onstage), rarely rise above rhyming New Jersey with scurvy.
Director Benji Sperring and choreographer Lucie Pankhurst keep things moving at top speed, finding occasion to insert in-joke sight gags referencing Rocky Horror, Phantom, Les Miz, Wicked, Thriller and others I may have missed.
And in true everything-but-the-kitchen-sink fashion, if an occasional joke falls flat, there's another waiting right behind it.
I defy you to hum a single song an hour after leaving the theatre, or to remember why the blind girl was suddenly dancing like Tina Turner. But I assure you that, fight it as hard as you want, you'll have great fun while you're there.
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Review - Toxic Avenger - Arts Theatre 2017