THE TOXIC AVENGER – Southwark Playhouse, London.
The Toxic Avenger is a bold and irreverent rock ‘n’ roll musical comedy that will sweep you up in its mad-cap story and provide a thoroughly good evening of entertainment. As long as you don’t think too much. With knowing nods and references, sometimes literally, to pop culture and other musicals, if you like Little Shop of Horrors and The Rocky Horror Picture Show this could be the show for you.
In his quest to rid Tromaville of toxic waste mayor and win the girl, Melvin Ferd the Third (Mark Anderson) comes up against the corrupt mayor and vows to overthrow her. Pursued by her goons he takes an unfortunate dip in a vat of toxic waste and ends up with superhuman strength, a bright green complexion and rather unsightly features, and his left eyeball just won’t stay in its socket. Fortunately and conveniently, the girl of his, librarian Sarah (Hannah Grove) is blind. She falls in love with “Toxie” unaware of his predicament and the fact it is her friend Marvin, and remains naively ignorant as he tries to uncover the owners of the Good Earth Corporation who are polluting New Jersey and evade the authorities who are after the “freak”.
Vocally, the cast are outstanding. It’s easy to be distracted by the prosthetics created by Jonathan Moriarty North, but underneath the green, Anderson gives a commanding performance. Grove too is sweet and charming, even when displaying her character’s promiscuous tendencies, and manages to play the character’s blindness for laughs without tipping over into exploitation or discrimination. It’s a fine line to walk, and while being far from politically correct, original creative team Joe Dipietro (Book & Lyrics) and David Bryan (Music & Lyrics), as well as director Benji Sperring stay on the right side of good taste. Just.
The two leads give fine performances but it is the supporting cast of Lizzii Hills as Melvin’s Mother and the Mayor, and Ashley Samuels and Marc Pickering as, well, everyone else that really make this show come alive. Attacking their multi-character roles with the gusto required to pull off such an outrageous premise, the three of them steal the show.
As you would expect from Tony Award winners, there are some interesting and catchy musical numbers chock full of word play and humour, including folksy ode to our hero ‘The Legend of the Toxic Avenger’ and traditional act two soliloquy ‘You Tore My Heart Out’.
The Toxic Avenger will not be to everyone’s taste, especially if you are easily offended, but go in expecting twisted, disturbing silliness and you will have a great time. The production standards are high and the material is accomplished and delivered by a very strong cast. I live for the darkly comic, weird musicals; I was right at home in Tromaville.
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By Catherine Duffy
22nd April – 21st May 2016
Southwark Playhouse, London SE1 6BD