The Toxic Avenger Musical: A Review

The Toxic Avenger Musical
The Toxic Avenger
Pictured: Demond Green, Matthew Saldivar, Nick Cordero, Sara Chase, Nancy Opel

This week, Bumpershine is pleased to welcome back theatre guru Robert Jaimes for a special review of The Toxic Avenger Musical, which is now playing at the New World Stages Theatre. -ed.

THE TOXIC AVENGER: TOXIE Has Moxie, Thanks To Strong Cast
By Robert Jaimes

When I first sat down to enjoy a recent performance of THE TOXIC AVENGER at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street), my first thought was that the very serviceable toxic waste dump set eerily reminded me of the “tired” garbage dump set from Broadway past. I thought, “A nod to CATS? Perhaps tonight’s show will pay some tongue-and-cheek homage to Broadway’s staple spectacles.” Given the musical’s not-so-standard subject matter, the brainchild of LLOYD KAUFMAN— boy meets blind librarian girl, boy falls into barrel of nuclear waste, loses face and blind librarian girl (after decapitating polluters), boy gets blind librarian girl— at most I was expecting comic toxic science, not rocket science.

What I learned is that just as toxic waste can seep dangerously into our water supply, derivative music seeps unawares all too often into the writers’ creative waters. TOXIC’s writers, JOE DiPIETRO (Book & Lyrics) and DAVID BRYAN (Music & Lyrics) lightly pepper the performance with nods to other Broadway shows, such as PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. In general, when it’s intentional, it works. The problem, however, is that from the very first note and throughout the show, the music frequently sounds derivative of, and harkens to, established Broadway and popular music, and more often than not, this type of peppering seems unintentional, more of a kitchen mishap or failed experiment than a carefully-added ingredient. The show’s lyrics, too, are memorable, mostly for the same wrong reason.

So let’s get this reviewer’s most obvious wink-wink opportunity out of the way: Is the show toxic? No. (Sorry, Britney) THE TOXIC AVENGER has a lot going for it, despite its so-so score and New Jersey locale. Like the Toxic Avenger himself, the cast has superhuman strength”… and great chemistry. While toxic fumes are aerated onstage, the cast of just five— 5!— deeply breathes life into the mythical and heavily-populated town of Tromaville, Exit 13B off the New Jersey Turnpike.

More of Robert’s review after the jump.

As Melvin Ferd the Third, NICK CORDERO transitions well from the lanky, bullied nerd whose passion against pollution becomes energized when he morphs into our misguided, eco-friendly superhero. As Melvin and Toxie, CORDERO sings with a voice that is both sincere and powerful. (Think Seymour from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.) Being a sensitive human being, I found it difficult to applaud at the end of “Everybody Dies,” a hilarious musical number reminiscent of JEKYLL AND HYDE’S “Murder, Murder,” during which internal organs abound as Toxie slays a slew of Tromaville townspeople. However, in his subsequent number, the truly ironic “You Tore My Heart Out,” CORDERO skillfully exhibited a troubled, more tender Toxie.

As Sarah, the blind librarian who couldn’t re-shelf a book if her life depended on it, SARA CHASE is a delight to watch. While Sarah is no Maria from WEST SIDE STORY, SARA CHASE’s non-P.C. performance is altogether witty and slitty and bright. With her retro rendition of “My Big French Boyfriend,” CHASE reminded me of Lesley Gore and Annette Funicello. In “Hot Toxic Love,” CHASE aptly and metaphorically drops the promise ring persona and breaks out the lube.

NANCY OPEL is a comical and vocal tour-de-force. When she sings as the money-for-toxic-dumping-driven, evil mayor of Tromaville, it should surprise no one that OPEL served as a standby for Patti Lupone in the original Broadway cast of EVITA. OPEL is funny and fearless; she brings to THE TOXIC AVENGER the necessary bravado and commitment to each of her roles. The over-the-top, Sybil-like performance required in “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore” is OPEL’s opportunity to let her nuclear-powered acting and vocal chops shine”… and she does. With cleaner direction, however, the frenzied number itself could shine almost as brightly.

Finally, as White Dude and Black Dude, respectively, MATTHEW SALVIDAR and DEMOND GREEN kick some toxic ass. They are the heart of Tromaville, brilliantly bringing the bulk of its offbeat townspeople to life. SALIDAR is particularly noteworthy as the witless but cocky local Jersey cop. As diva Shinequa, GREEN sashays, shantes, shantes, shantes, shantes like a worthy RuPaul rival who remains true to her Jersey roots”… and weave. She—I mean, he— brings sheer delight to the audience.

THE TOXIC AVENGER may not be flawless, but neither is New Jersey”… or New York, for that matter. All still deserve an audience. The message: We could all clean up our act a bit. – Robert Jaimes

Special $45 Ticket Offer for The Toxic Avenger
Valid on Performances: Now through July 31, 2009
Code: TOBLOG409
Regular Price: $71.50 / $51.50
Discounted Price: $45 (includes $1.50 facility fee)