I hadn’t seen The Toxic Avenger The Musical at either Southwark Playhouse or the Edinburgh Fringe, but I can see why it’s been given another new lease of life. The words ‘the musical’ only suffix the main title to distinguish this stage production from the 1984 motion picture. Either way, the opening night crowd’s response to the show was evidence enough that the show already has something of a cult following. It is essentially critic-proof: there are significant holes in the plotline, but a) the show is intelligent enough to recognise these, and indulge in self-parody on multiple occasions, b) to go through all the said holes would involve too many plot spoilers and c) to knock a fictional musical comedy for not having a watertight plot would, let’s be honest, be indicative of a lack of a good sense of humour.
Twice during proceedings, once in each act, the Mayor (Natalie Hope) orders White Dude (Oscar Conlon-Morrey) to hurry up and finish the musical number in question. On both occasions, the song does indeed become dull and repetitive after too many iterations of the same lyrics. Why was this allowed to happen in the first place, except to set up the same joke twice over? It seemed to me to be a poor pay-off for a punchline that is itself repeated. White Dude is only called White Dude to distinguish from Black Dude (Ché Francis), but on many occasions, this distinction was negligible, if existent at all – the choreography (Lucie Pankhurst) is the same, and there’s never any evidence of preferential treatment either way based on race, or indeed of any personal characteristics.
Which is just as well, given that the central character, Melvin (Mark Anderson), who also becomes known as Toxie for reasons explained in the narrative, becomes, through no fault of his own, as green as Elphaba in Wicked. And Wicked is one of several musical productions referenced in a (deliberately) bizarre plot. Some were more subtly cited than others – Mary Poppins may not have been spotted by everyone, while The Phantom of the Opera couldn’t have been more obvious. Maximum enjoyment, then, comes to those who already have an affection for the stage.
That said, bringing someone who might not recognise, for example, a parody of The Lion King in the final seconds of the show proper (before the curtain call and playout), will still enjoy the show for what it is: a hilarious superhero story. With his new found confidence, which he attributes to Sarah (Emma Salvo), a blind librarian (don’t ask), Toxie goes from being too reticent and nerdy to not looking before he leaps. It all works out in the end, however, and in all the hilarity, Toxie’s pure (or, at least, non-malicious) motives more than makeup for his fallibility in acting too soon. In the end, good does triumph over evil, allowing for a suitably celebratory musical ending.
This show may, refreshingly, have thrown political correctness to the wind, but I would not go so far as to agree with those who consider it offensive, because to do so would mean being offended by a little seduction and flirtation here and there, and what the show itself calls “indeterminate accents” elsewhere. Some light is made, for instance, of Sarah’s inability to see, but I wouldn’t say it crosses the proverbial line of common decency.
Not very many songs progress the story forward, which does mean, particularly for those who like the shows they see to be at least fairly plot-heavy, some waiting for a musical number to finish so the plot can resume. Nonetheless, this is a watertight cast who rise to the considerable demands and challenges that performing this show hurls at them with seeming ease and relative effortlessness. Look out for Natalie Hope playing two characters at once – it’s the sort of simple but effective device used in the play Perfect Nonsense by David and Robert Goodale. ‘Perfect nonsense’, mind you, pretty much sums up this ludicrous and appealingly hysterical production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Toxie is a seven-foot mutant freak with superhuman strength and a supersized heart to match. He’s out to save New Jersey, end global warming, win the heart of the prettiest (blindest) librarian in town and get home in time for dinner in this toxic love story with an environmental twist.
Based on the 1984 cult classic, The Toxic Avenger tells the story of the citizens of Tromaville who are crying out for a hero. Enter Melvin Ferd the Third, an aspiring earth scientist determined to clean up the toxic waste problem. When a corrupt Mayor and her government goons get wind of his plans, they vow to stop this heroic feat, Melvin is tossed into a vat of toxic waste, and transformed into The Toxic Avenger, New Jersey’s first superhero!
Prepare to laugh, scream and sing as ‘Toxie’ rocks the house and saves the day.
The Toxic Avenger
Booking Period: 28th September to 3rd December 2017
Age Restriction: 12+ – Swearing and Adult Humour
6-7 Great Newport Street,
London, WC2H 7JB