THEATRE REPORT: A Hideously Deformed Monster Christmas Gift, or THE TOXIC AVENGER
X always buys me the best presents. He’s the reason I have a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE clock, with hook and chainsaw arms, the guy who gave me a Donkey Kong figure and a Mecha Godzilla all in one Christmas. When he told me to keep December 30 open on my schedule, it was a mystery to me what we’d be doing, but no mystery that it would be something fun. So when we turned the corner and I saw the small theatre on 50th Street in Manhattan, I was intrigued. When I got close enough to read THE TOXIC AVENGER MUSICAL, I was jazzed.
I’m a longtime Troma fan, who understands that the studio’s movies aren’t exactly, ahem, well made, but they’re always a fun ride. My favorite Troma film is CLASS OF NUKE EM HIGH, but as every Tromite does, I hold a special place in my heart for Toxie, the hideously deformed monster hero of Troma’s first splatter fest, THE TOXIC AVENGER. A hardcore group of stage types felt the same way, and assembled their individual talents to produce THE TOXIC AVENGER MUSICAL. The end result is exactly what it should have been, a fun experience that deviates much from the story of Troma’s flagship film, but carries the studio’s aesthetic to new places.
From the moment I walked into the theatre (front row stage left, if I may brag), I was impressed. On the small stage, there appeared to be hundreds of barrels of toxic waste. Atop the barrels at center stage, the “White Guy” and “Black Guy appeared (did it matter that both of them were white? This is Troma, after all!), singing lyrics that spoofed New Jersey. This song was exemplary of the entire score; rocking music accompanied by lyrics with a wicked sense of humor. Clearly, longtime Bon Jovi keyboardist captured the Troma essence to a tee. Once the song ends, Melvin Ferd the Third appears, and promises to remove the toxic waste from his home state, which has been overrun by the stuff. At this point, it became very clear to me that the play would not be a straight remake of the movie, but a retelling with all sorts of alterations from the source material. Sure, some familiar elements appear: Melvin; Toxie’s blind girlfriend Sarah; the social commentary on the environment. But there’s a new take on them.
And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s enjoyable and refreshing. By shedding the gym setting and much of the stuff that would have been hard to pull off on stage, playwright Joe DiPietro boldly takes things in different directions, challenging the audience with a new set of events where he could have gotten lazy and cribbed from Lloyd Kaufman’s film. Subplots with the crazed female mayor and Toxie’s mom, as well as a whole slew of new characters that include a horny scientist and a Bruce Springsteen-like storyteller populate this new vision, and serve it well. For Troma fans, this is like the New Testament of the Bible; if Kaufman’s film is the Gospel of Matthew, than the play is the Gospel of Mark. The only decision that I lament is that the play loses the tutu. It’s an iconic part of the character, and the one piece that ties Melvin and Toxie together.
THE TOXIC AVENGER MUSICAL is also a love story, and this makes for my only complaint. In the role of Sarah, American Idol’s Diana DeGarmo comes across as a squeaky voiced, easily excitable girl who lacks the gravity of her male lead, the sizeable Nick Cordero, whose powerful voice and talent dwarf DeGarmo. It’s a minor complaint, though, as her passable acting don’t undermine the rest of the cast. Nancy Opel, as both corrupt mayor and kvetching mother (sometimes within the same scene! okay, I’m abusing parentheses now), steals the show with sheer bombast and an edgy sex appeal. The one complaint that X voiced, and others may share, is that Cordero plays both Toxie and Melvin, instead of dividing the role between separate actors, as the films always have. This didn’t bother me personally, as the clothing and Cordero’s acting both sold Melvin as being much smaller than he is; but I can see where some fans would take issue with this.
Toxie fans won’t take issue with the play, though. Score, writing, stage craft and acting all converge to make for one very worthy addition to the Troma catalogue. I haven’t had that much fun in a while, and I would gladly see it again.
See, I told you X always gets me the best presents.