Southwark Playhouse, London – until 21 May 2016
There’s a fabulous pedigree behind the satirical jaunt that is The Toxic Avenger – The Musical. Inspired by the Troma Studios b-movies of the same name and with music and lyrics by David Bryan (he of Bon Jovi) and Joe DiPietro (both of Memphis fame), the show is an irreverent pastiche of late 20th century America.
Set against the toxically polluted backdrop of “Tromaville”, New Jersey, Mark Anderson is Melvin Ferd The Third, inadequate but essentially good, who gets dropped into a vat of toxic waste by hoodlums. He survives the dunking but emerges as Toxie, a hideously deformed mutant with superhuman powers who sets out to win the heart of Sarah, a (conveniently) blind librarian.
To describe the show as tongue in cheek could almost be an obtuse reference to the grotesque prosthetic (good work from Jonathan Moriarty North‘s studios) that Anderson sports as Toxie. But this musical’s not to be taken seriously and it’s only to be seen by those who share that guilty pleasure of liking their comedy served bloody, with a large helping of political incorrectness on the side.
Deliberately setting out to spoof itself by requiring a cast of only five, Anderson along with Hannah Grover who plays Sarah, are the only actors allowed to stay in role throughout. The remaining multitude of characters are made up by Ashley Samuels and Marc Pickering who spin through costume changes with breathtaking speed and Lizzi Hills who spends her time alternating between Tromaville’s Mayor and Melvin’s mother – and who closes act one hilariously as her two characters fight (each other!) in a number aptly entitled Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore.
There’s merciless mockery in Bryan and DiPietro’s lyrics and the show drips with wit and some killer lyrics. That Toxie’s stench, can be rhymed not only with “french” but also with “mensch” is a stroke of genius. If some of the satire sometimes flags, when it’s good it’s inspired. Pickering’s appearance as a Folk Singer with The Legend Of The Toxic Avenger is a spot-on tribute to John Cougar’s Jack and Diane, whilst Anderson’s You Tore My Heart Out will stay with me for a long time.
The creative work is classy too, with Mike Lee’s set design, all skyline, vats, and steam-belching oil drums cleverly re-creating New Jersey’s polluted shoreline. Set above the stage, Alex Beetschen’s band make fine work of a score that’s epic in its range.
If you enjoy comedy-horror that while being carefully (and expensively) crafted, refuses to take itself seriously, you’ll love The Toxic Avenger. Not for the easily offended, this is top-notch trash!
Runs until 21st MayPicture credit: Claire Bilyard