The Toxic Avenger
26 April 2016
“There’s a place between heaven and hell,
Don’t need a map, just follow the smell,
A place filled with filthy air,
A place full of dark despair,
A place you have no prayer,
A place called New Jersey”
So begins, two hours of theatrical brilliance that had me laughing throughout.
Created by Lloyd Kaufman, The Toxic Avenger was the central character in a series of cult movies and thanks to Joe Di Pietro (Book and Lyrics) and David Bryan (Music and Lyrics), Toxie, as he’s affectionately called in the show has landed at the Southwark Playhouse.
The plot in brief. Tromaville is suffering from extreme toxic waste and Melvin Ferd the Third, an aspiring scientist is determined to clean up the problem. The only problem is that he’s up against a corrupt Mayor. In her efforts to stop Melvin, he is tossed in a vat of toxic goo by her goons and transformed into Toxie – The Toxic Avenger! And no I’m not kidding!
Everything about The Toxic Avenger smells of success, but so much of this show is carried by one of the finest casts I’ve ever seen in an off-West End musical. The score of The Toxic Avenger, is an enormous sing by any measure. Composer David Bryan, of Bon Jovi fame, has bought every beat of rock sensibility to this score and given the residents of Tromaville something to really sing about.
As Melvin and Toxie, Mark Anderson is sublime. Singing from beneath a prosthetic mask for most of the show, it can’t be an easy job, but Anderson makes it all appear effortless. Transforming from geek to mutant, Anderson undergoes a transformation that had some near me doubting it was the same actor.
Hannah Grover plays Sarah, a blind librarian (I’m still not making this up). Obsessed with Oprah, and working her way through volumes of physical comedy, Grover never quite crosses the line on the political correctness front, but she has a lot of fun (and so do the audience) watching this incredible performance.
As the corrupt Mayor, Lizzii Hills is incredible. Imagine shoulder pads and Dynasty knock-off fashion and you might be close. Playing two characters in the show, she gets a show-stopping moment at the end of Act One where she sings the duet Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore with herself. No easy feat but Hills had the audience crying with laughter.
Perhaps the hardest working duo of the night, were Ashley Samuels and Marc Pickering. Playing multiple characters – male and female – these two are constantly running on and off stage, creating an array of colourful characters, that go a long way to making this show the comic success that it is.
Director Benji Sperring, has ensured that Bryan’s pulsing score is matched by the frenetic action on stage throughout this pop musical masterpiece. Musical Director Alex Beetschen, Set and Costume Designer Mike Lees, Lighting Designer Nic Farman and Choreographer Lucie Pankhurst have worked together as a perfect unit to create the world of Tromaville and the result is world-class.
I particularly wanted to single out the work of Sound Designer Andrew Johnson. So often, with score’s like this, poor sound design lets the whole show down, but The Toxic Avenger was blessed with some of the best sound design I’ve heard in a long while. Every word was heard without sacrificing the impact of the score on the night.! Bravo!
Reading back this review, I am thoroughly aware that it is an out and out rave, but it’s accurate. This is one of those shows that musical theatre lovers should see. Having been a fan of the original recording of the show, I can honestly say that the Southwark cast left that recording in the dust. An Off West End cast album is definitely warranted.
What frustrates me is that Southwark Playhouse is getting a reputation for housing some of the most incredible musicals. If they were produced Off Broadway they’d run and run, but we’re limited to short runs here in London and that has to change. The cast and production team behind shows like The Toxic Avenger should have the ability to benefit from their hard work.
Get down to Southwark Playhouse and get Toxic, you’ll be glad you dipped your toes in that vat of toxic goo! Brilliant!!