The Toxic Avenger @ New World Stages , New York

cast list
Chase, Nick Cordero, Demond Green, Nancy Opel, Matthew Saldivar

directed by
John Rando
In the silly new musical based on the 1984 B-movie horror flick there’s not much to be found in the way of art.

There is, however, a lot to laugh about. In musicalizing the Troma Entertainment-produced film, book writer and co-lyricist Joe DiPietro has brought out the silliness inherent to schlocky movies with the loving care of a true fan.

The plot centers around the typical zany premises necessary to a musical about a mutant superhero. Geeky Melvin Ferd the Third, whose attempts to woo blind librarian-cum-vixen Sarah are mostly unsuccessful, takes into his own hands the environmental crisis facing his native New Jersey town of Tromaville.
He attempts to meddle in Mayor Babs Belgoody’s affairs and ends up being thrown into a barrel of toxic waste by a pair of thugs in her employ.

Though he emerges alive, he finds himself stronger and greener. Sarah, whom he never allows to touch his face, suddenly finds the new, more muscular Melvin – whom she believes to be “Toxie,” her “big French boyfriend” – far more attractive. But, as he goes on a rampage in order to save the environment, he soon finds himself needing to reconcile his newfound place in pacifist Sarah’s heart with his murderous ways.

A cast of five play a good number of characters (Matthew Saldivar as “White Dude” and Demond Green as “Black Dude” alone must tackle a dozen or so), but Nancy Opel’s doubling of Mayor Babs Belgoody and Ma Ferd is the highlight of the production. Bringing a robust, sassy voice to her handful of songs and an exuberant sense of comedy to her scenes, Opel proves that she’s just the kind of performer to bring life to mediocre material. In a particularly fun theatrical trick, Opel finds herself playing two characters at once.

The rest of the cast is similarly appealing. Nick Cordero plays Melvin with oblivious charm. Sara Chase sings the role of Sarah wonderfully. It’s a shame she’s forced to execute so many mind-numbing blind jokes. It’s cruelly funny the first few times she faces the wrong direction while singing or wanders off in the middle of a scene, but some of the digs at blind people begin to border on tastelessness.

Lines like, “I can’t, I’m blind” (from Sarah) and “Oh, how naive are the handicapped” (from Mayor Belgoody) feel unnecessarily cruel. The humor is tasteless throughout, consisting mostly of crude jokes that the younger set will enjoy in their outright display of schadenfreude.

But there are also genuinely funny moments, many of which come during the songs, written by composer and co-lyricist David Bryan (a member of Bon Jovi). The songs, though they sometimes feel too similar, are often hilarious. Choose Me, Oprah has some choice lyrics, including “Hug me, Oprah/ plug me, Oprah.” And All Men Are Freaks provides the show with a much-needed pick-me-up late in the game. Still, the score suffers from an overabundance of power ballad send-ups (though they’re mostly pleasant to listen to).

Creative sets and costumes by Beowulf Boritt and David C. Woolard play with the limits of the theatre in relation to film. And fight direction by Rick Sordelet and David Debesse is winningly hokey throughout.

Director John Rando mostly keeps the goofiness going a mile a minute. Things start to sag by the time the show’s last-minute chase scene approaches, but the production is mostly slick until then. By the end of The Toxic Avenger, despite some funny antics on the part of the cast – who look like they’re loving what they’re doing on-stage – the jokes mostly begin to wear thin.

I know, though I’d had a mostly fun time, I was glad when the show was over. The story was just intriguing enough, the score was just hummable enough, but, once the blind jokes got old I wanted something else a little more original to laugh at. There’s so much untapped potential in tackling a horror flick spoof like this one. It’s a shame the creators didn’t take their show a step further along the way and find something a little more toxic to pour into it; there are plenty of possibilities on hand.

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