Monday, October 13, 2008

Toxic Avenger: the Musical

There is good, there is great, and then there is Toxic Avenger the Musical, now playing at the George St. Playhouse in New Brunswick, NJ. Now, I am not usually one prone to hyperbole, but I am going to give it a shot here. This is by far the funniest play that I have ever seen. Not that I have been to see too many funny plays. In fact, the only other one I can think of is I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change I actually really liked that play, which is a musical as well, which may explain why I loved Toxic Avenger so much. Joe DiPietro wrote the book and lyrics to both. Apparently I am now a huge Joe DiPietro fan. He really knows his material, as he was born and raised off of Exit 166 of the Parkway (that’s way up North, damn!)

The biggest strength of this program is in its lyrics. The songs are exceptionally humorous and moving, and sang exceptionally well. Good material well executed is usually a reliable formula for success. The music and lyrics were done by David Bryan. Who’s that you say? Well, he’s only the keyboardist and founding member of Bon Jovi! If that is not enough reason for you to get your ass to New Brunswick and see this damn play I don’t know what else to tell you… Oh wait, yes I do, it’s in the following paragraphs. Do you really need to know the pedigree of Bon -120+ million albums sold to date-Jovi? OK, now that we’re all on the same page about Mr Bryan, I can tell you that his musical expertise is on full display in Toxic Avenger. There is a wide variety of musical styles sung in the different songs, and even a sly takeoff of The Boss on a couple of occasions. There are at least two tangos, which I was not expecting, and a decent amount of all-out old-fashioned Rock. These two NJ pieces fall together perfectly to produce a musical score that you are guaranteed to be humming all the way home. And now to get a little more specific about the subject matter.

For those of you who don’t know (and shame on you) this musical is an interpretation of the four Toxic Avenger movies all made by the infamous Troma Studios, where all truly great Bad Movies are made. In the original movie Melvin, our hero, is a 90 lb weakling who gets bullied to the point where his tormentors feel it appropriate to dump him in a vat of toxic waste. Now, rather than kill him like it should, it turns him into a giant, green, mutated superhero. Similar circumstances happen in the Musical, for different reasons (go see the damn thing for specifics!) but the outcome is the same; giant green freak runs amok in the name of justice and love. Yes, Love dammit! If there is one positive message everyone can take away from this play, it’s that if a Big Green Freak can find Hot Toxic Love, then you can too. And if not, then Everybody Dies anyway, so you can comfort yourself with the fact that whoever Tore Your Heart Out will die eventually too. The most impressive thing about Toxic Avenger the Musical is that there are about 15+ characters represented in the entire story, only 5 actors, and no intermission. One thing is for certain, if you want to be an actor in this play, you have to be in shape, because there are no breaks or time outs. Everyone is in action all of the time.

The cast is charged not only with keeping up this hectic pace, but also with doing justice to the wonderful songs and lyrics that they have been provided with by DiPietro and Bryan. As with every other challenge put before them, the Cast faces down this challenge and rips its guts out. Audra Blaser (Sarah) has great range, and proves it by singing a variety of songs throughout the story. She hits high notes and low, and even puts a good bit of soul in her voice for a little white girl. Nick Cordero doesn’t have as much range as the Toxic Avenger, but all he has to do is mutilate people and Rock Out, which he does admirably, so it’s all good. Demond Green (Black Dude) and David Josefsberg (White Dude) pull double duty, literally, having to sing as men and women. And the damndest thing is they pull of both sexes very convincingly. I have to say thought, I could have gone without seeing them in Tina Turner style Vegas gowns, but maybe that’s just me. And Nancy Opel does perhaps the hardest bit of all, singing one song as two different people. The performances really are not to be believed. I mean, this play should be seen just to marvel at the actors’ endurance.

I really cannot say enough about the play, but I want you to see it for yourself. You do not have to be from NJ to enjoy it, but it helps. I left that theater with so much Jersey pride I felt ready to burst. We are a state full of fighters, and we do not let anyone beat us down, no matter how much the odds are against us. We are also some funny s.o.b.’s apparently. Troma, as I said, are the masters of the Great Bad movie, and this is a Great Bad Musical. That being said, it is worth your time and money. The laughs are uproarious, and the Jersey in-jokes are great if you can catch them. If you go in their expecting Miss Saigon, you will be sorely disappointed, but if you go with an open mind expecting to have a great time, your every wish will be fulfilled.


Emily said...

Oo, I wanna go!

ParticularlyEvil said...

Excellent review, John - Toxic was a blast!

sinceyoudied said...

nitpicking: "tormentors feel it appropriate to dump him in a vat of toxic waste"

Actually, when Melvin found that he was kissing a pig and not the blonde he thought, he was so embarrassed that he jumped out of the window and into a barrel of toxic waste.

I used to be a big fan of horror movies. I think I rewound the scene where the cyclist gets his head run over about fifty times. I was 11.