The Toxic Avenger
Reviewed – 2nd October 2017
“fearless and anarchic and a delightful rebuff to political correctness”
There is the current argument that the West End has become a very safe artistic world; homogenised and unchallenging, with an eye too much on box office sales. A mirror to the world at large, maybe, that is increasingly fearful of saying the wrong thing or offending the wrong person. Whether one agrees with this or not is irrelevant. All I know is that ‘The Toxic Avenger’ has ripped through this fabric of conventionalism and swept into town like an intoxicating breath of fresh air.
On paper it is such a bizarre, off-the-wall idea. One, I suspect, that would not get through the door of a producer’s office. But Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment, has the visionary nerve to grab this beast by the horns and bring it, via Edinburgh and its successful run in Southwark last year, to the Arts Theatre West End. And boy does she do it with gusto!
Based on the 1984 cult film of the same name, with book by Joe DiPietro and music by Bon Jovi band member David Bryan, it is a kind of Incredible Hulk meets Frank-N-Furter musical romp. A story with its tongue literally bursting through its cheek, charting the journey of the eponymous, self-doubting super-hero intent on trying to ‘get the girl’ while simultaneously saving the city from the threat of an evil town mayor. A familiar sounding spoof, but what elevates this musical to the status of masterpiece is its sheer irreverence, daring and unrestrained sense of fun. It is fearless and anarchic and a delightful rebuff to political correctness.
Mark Anderson plays the nerdy Melvin who mutates into the avenging ‘Toxie’, deftly capturing the mix of vulnerability in the former and confused self-righteousness of the monster-on-a-mission in the latter. A devil with the voice of an angel; the entire audience fell for him. On his quest to save the world he enlists the help of blind librarian Sarah, the love of his life (played by Emma Salvo with brilliant comic timing). With her help he very quickly discovers that the town mayor is the ‘bad guy’ (or bad girl in this case), portrayed by Natalie Hope with delicious villainy, yet overflowing with sex appeal. Interestingly she doubles as the hero’s mother – which is used to great comic effect later in the show. But hats off to the two other cast members, Ché Francis and Oscar Conlon-Morrey, who play all the other characters with such dizzying versatility and humour you forget to wonder at how they manage their countless costume changes. Both recent graduates, these are two names to look out for.
I could reel off the highlights of this show but I would be in danger of merely relating the whole story. However the star is the score. Never has pastiche been so expertly delivered. Part of the fun of watching the performance was spotting the myriad musical references, yet the songs still retain an individuality and infectious freshness, with a searing sound from just a four piece band led by musical director Alex Beetschen.
This show is proof that the craziest ideas can yield the best results. It is a show that, from start to finish, never dips. In the opening number the audience are jokingly warned that the performance is eighteen hours long. The irony of this remark is that I really would not have minded if that were true. This is one of those rare productions I could see again and again. I left the theatre with a smile a mile wide. An absolute ‘must see’!
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Irina Chira
THE TOXIC AVENGER
is at The Arts Theatre until 3rd December
Final casting is announced today for the transfer to the Arts Theatre of the acclaimed rock musical, The Toxic Avenger The Musical.
Following a sold-out UK premiere at Southwark Playhouse, when it received 6 Off West End Award nominations including Best Musical, The Toxic Avenger The Musical will play the Arts Theatre for a strictly limited 10-week season from Thursday 28 September.
Prior to the London season, the production will get its Scottish premiere with a month-long run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Joining Mark Anderson, who returns after starring to great acclaim as Melvin/Toxie in the original London production, are: Natalie Hope, Emma Salvo, Oscar Conlon-Morrey and Ché Francis with Peter Bindloss and Sophia Lewis as swings/understudies.
Based on Lloyd Kaufman’s cult 1984 comedy schlock-horror Troma film, The Toxic Avenger, The Toxic Avenger The Musical tells the story of the citizens of Tromaville who are crying out for a hero. Enter nerdy Melvin Ferd the Third, an aspiring earth scientist, determined to clean up the state’s major 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 attacked and tossed into a vat of toxic waste… transforming him instantly into The Toxic Avenger – New Jersey’s first superhero! Toxie is a 7-foot mutant freak with superhuman strength and a supersized heart to match. His aims are to save heavily polluted New Jersey, end global warming, win the heart of the prettiest (blindest) librarian in town – and get home in time for dinner! Prepare to laugh, scream and sing to songs including ‘Who Will Save New Jersey?” “Get the Geek”, “Thank God She’s Blind” “Hot Toxic Love” and “Choose Me, Oprah!” as ‘Toxie’ rocks the house and saves the day!
Mark Anderson (Melvin/Toxie)
Previous theatre includes: The Toxic Avenger The Musical (Southwark Playhouse); Stiles & Drewe’s Three Little Pigs (International tour); The Book of Mormon Original West End cast (Prince of Wales Theatre); Love Me Tender (National tour); Once Upon A Mattress (Union Theatre); Legally Blonde (National tour); Mary Poppins (National tour); Hello, Dolly! (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre); The Boy Friend (West End); You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (Tabard Theatre).
Natalie Hope (Mayor)
Previous theatre includes: Sweet Charity (Manchester Royal Exchange); Legally Blonde (Leicester Curve Theatre); The Commitments (Palace Theatre, West End); Our House (Savoy Theatre, West End); Sister Act (UK tour); Evita (UK tour); Disney’s High School Musical (UK tour); Fame (Shafesbury Theatre, West End and UK tour); Don’t Stop Believing (UK tour); Rocky Horror Show (UK tour); Laughter in the Rain (UK tour); Beyond the Barricade (UK tour).
Emma Salvo (Sarah)
Previous theatre includes: Holy Crap (King’s Head Theatre), Grease (Royal Caribbean), Newsrevue (Canal Cafe Theatre), Sincerely, Mr Toad (UK tour).
Oscar Conlon-Morrey (White Dude)
Oscar has just graduated and is making his professional debut.
Ché Francis (Black Dude)
Ché has just graduated and is making his professional debut.
The Toxic Avenger The Musical is the brainchild of the Tony Award-winning creative team behind the smash hit West End musical Memphis, Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, an original founding member and keyboardist/vocalist for rock giants, Bon Jovi.
Creative team: Director: Benji Sperring. Musical Director: Alex Beetschen. Designer: takis. Lighting Designer: Nic Farman. Choreographer: Lucie Pankhurst. Sound Designer: Andrew Johnson.,
Produced by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment and Derek Nicol and Paul Walden for Flying Entertainment.
Performed by arrangement with Music Theatre International (Europe) Limited.