Toxic Avenger Tantalizes Audiences in Regional Premiere
By Robert Haugh
The audience’s hands were clapping and there was boisterous laughing throughout. The five-person cast of The Stage’s The Toxic Avenger hit a grand slam, garnering a standing ovation at its media premiere on June 10.
The cast did a yeoman’s job making the nearly two-hour musical adaptation of the 1984 Lloyd Kaufman film amazingly tantalizing.
Populated with witty puns, the musical takes viewers on the journey of an aspiring scientist who wants to end global warming. Described as a “toxic love story with an environmental twist,” the Broadway-quality performance features an array of memorable characters, including a wickedly corrupt Jersey Mayor.
Allison F. Rich, who played two equally amazing roles as vivacious and corrupt Tromaville Mayor Babs Belgoody, as well as Toxie’s sweet and memorable Ma Ferd. Rich’s comedic timing, dramatic facials, and charisma are especially evident during her riveting one-person segment “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore” where Mayor and Mama go back and forth in a fast-paced duet – including a bit where Rich simultaneously plays both characters – it would make “Rowdy” Roddy Piper proud. Rich’s flawless performance would woo audiences in any theatre setting.
With adult-themed wit and humor, the not-so-surprising, yet interesting love story unfolds in Tromaville, the most polluted city in New Jersey near the Hudson River between Toxie/Melvin Ferd III (Will Springhorn, Jr.) and a charming, soft-spoken blind librarian Sarah (Courtney Hatcher). The story has a little Beauty and the Beast flair, Rocky Horror-esque pizzazz and comic-book-like drama. In fact, the performance itself makes some quips about the cult film.
White Man (Jonathan Marx) and Black Man (Brandon Noel Thomas) are stunning in their roles, swapping outfits as if they were competing to win the Indy 500, transitioning from such roles as seventh-year high school bullies Sluggo and Bozo, stiletto-heel-wearing busty women Shaniqua and Diane, waste management executives, Dr. Fishbein and Professor Ken (a doctor and scientist called upon to examine and treat Toxie) and Marx as a balladeer type folk singer, who had this scribe humming “The Legend of the Toxic Avenger” for days. In each role, Marx and Thomas had completely different facials, voices and personas, showcasing a tremendously diverse array of characters.
“That wasn’t great, that was phenomenal,” was one comment heard from a viewer, with another spectator saying that the Toxic Avenger may have been the best performance ever at the downtown San Jose venue.
Classic 8-bit and comic-inspired graphics add to the ambiance, including an homage to Street Fighter during fight scenes. Bloody splats on the screen, disembowelment, gunshots and beheading are also part of the performance, though Bleach may be the most powerful weapon of all – or maybe it’s a blind girl in love with a handgun?
The large video screen provides a fun backdrop that compliments the phenomenal soundtrack, orchestrated by David Bryan – keyboardist and founding member of Bon Jovi.
Performances run through July 17 at The Stage, 490 South First Street, San Jose. Visit thestage.org for more information and tickets.