Writer: Joe DiPietro and David Bryan
Director: Benji Sperring
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Finally, the 2016 Southwark Playhouse production of The Toxic Avenger gets its London transfer. Based on the cult classic film of 1984, this musical, penned by the writers who gave us the underrated Memphis the Musical, is chaotic, messy and irreverent – to quote some of its lyrics, ‘it kicks ass, it’s a blast’.
Melvin Ferd the Third is a geeky scientist, eager to discover who is leaving toxic waste around the city of Tromaville in New Jersey. With his weedy body, he is no match for the culprits, who quickly throw him in one of the vats of goo, and it is here, in this green slimy toxic waste, where Melvin undergoes his superhero transformation. He gains a cape and muscles, but his face becomes horribly disfigured in the process. It’s handy, then, that his love interest, the town librarian, Sarah, is blind, and while she never fancied Melvin, the geek, she certainly has the hots for his alter ego, The Toxic Avenger. However, she’s unaware of his superpowers; she just thinks he’s French!
Still, there’s not much time for lovemaking as Toxic – or Toxie as he quickly becomes – has to battle the Mayor of Tromaville, who is responsible for dumping the waste. Can he expose her dastardly ways before she finds his Achilles heel? This silliness – the book is by Joe DiPietro – is partnered with some marvellously catchy and naughtily un-PC songs by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan. Any prudery should be left at home for numbers such as Thank God She’s Blind and Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore. Bryan’s repertoire, while solidly American, incorporates rock and folk along with a 60s’ girl group sound in My Big French Boyfriend and even tango in Evil is Hot. There ‘s not one dud song and Hot Toxic Love could become a karaoke classic.
All the cast are in fine voice, especially Natalie Hope, who, as well as playing the Mayor, also plays Toxie’s mother and this doubling leads to some frantic costume changes when the two characters sing a duet. Mark Anderson is the only actor to reprise his role from the Southwark production, and although he’s stuffed into Toxic’s green rubber suit, he is still able to elicit the audience’s sympathy, helped, no doubt, by lines like ‘it’s hard to get laid when your face is decayed’. Emma Salvo plays blind Sarah with a wicked disregard to propriety, but her portrayal is never maliciously offensive and so we are always rooting for her.
All other parts are played by Ché Francis and Oscar Conlon-Morrey, who are required to be new characters in almost every scene, but they send up this overwork to glorious comic effect. Both actors are at the start of their professional careers, but they exude confidence and talent in these difficult and frenetic roles.
Most of the creatives from the Southwark production have returned, with Takis being able to extend his grimy cityscape on a bigger stage and on a seemingly much bigger budget. Nic Farman’s lights are effective here, occasionally even getting their own laughs, while director Benji Sperring cranks up the hysteria to breathlessness. It’s sometimes hard to believe there are only five actors on stage.
The excellent band, always visible on a balcony above the action, sometimes get involved in the storytelling too, while the stagehands have their own parts to play. This sense of partnership, and the fun that the actors are clearly having, ensure that The Toxic Avenger is the most joyous musical currently playing on the London stage.
Runs until 3 December 2017 | Image: Irina Chira