BWW Reviews: SNS' TOXIC AVENGER Earns a Glowing Review
At the end of its Aug. 23 premiere performance, the Short North Stage cast of THE TOXIC AVENGER: THE MUSICAL took its curtain call at the Garden Theatre. After its five actors took their bows, one kept wondering when the rest of the cast was going to come out.
Lisa Glover, Johnathon L. Jackson, Steven Michael Mooney, Sheri Sanders and Jesse Daniel Trieger could probably fit in a Honda Civic and need only one large pizza for the cast party. Yet their performances, with many of the actors taking on an exhausting list of roles, make TOXIC AVENGER seem like a much larger presentation.
Making its debut in Columbus, the riotous, tongue-in-cheek musical will run Aug. 23-Sept. 15 at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus).
TOXIC AVENGER, which won the Critics Outer Circle's "Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical" in 2009, is faithful to the 1984 B-movie of the same name. It was put together by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, who also worked together on MEMPHIS.
Bryan, the keyboardist of Bon Jovi, and DiPietro composed a show much like LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. In both musicals, the lyrics zing, the music creates nostalgia, and the violence amuses more than it horrifies.
In the opening of TOXIC AVENGER, the cast "advises" the audience that "The story we're about to tell you is so disturbing, we've stationed a registered nurse outside in the lobby. She is armed with a tranquilizer dart gun for those needing sedation. She also has Xanax and Vicodin she got off the internet."
Fortunately, the nurse is never needed. Aspiring scientist Melvin Ferd III (Trieger) tries to protect Tromaville, N.J. from shipments of toxic waste coming in from New York. When Ferd traces the origin (and smell) of the toxic waste to the mayor's office, Mayor Babs Belgoody (Sanders) dispatches goons Sluggo (Jackson) and Bozo (Mooney) to take care of the problem. The two bullies dump Ferd into a vat of toxic waste, turning the former nerd into a hulking, stinky superhero. He saves Sarah, a blind librarian who he had been pining after, from the two villains and goes after the mayor who wronged him.
Bryan and DiPietro, who both hail from New Jersey, lampoon the Garden State and incorporate references to New Jersey and winks to native son Bruce Springsteen. In "The Legend of the Toxic Avenger," the folk singer (also Mooney) croons: "Let me tell you a story about a man with a strange complexion. He killed a lot of folks and made a love connection. By day, he had a girl who baked him homemade breads. By night, he roamed the streets and ripped off people's heads." Mooney's delivery sounds Springsteenish but the melody sounds like a mixture of Mellencamp's "Small Town" and Bad Company's "Shooting Star."
Glover and Trieger are a pretty convincing pair. One of the challenges of these types of shows is playing a comedic role as a straight man but Trieger handles the transition from nerd to monster seamlessly. Glover showcases a beautiful singing voice as Sarah, a seemingly shy, innocent librarian who hides a more vivacious, off-hours demeanor. Pardon the pun, but some of Sarah's best moments are "sight" gags, such as her room where all the pictures are hung catawampus or when missing the shelves as she puts away books.
The success of the show also hinges on the performances of Mooney, Jackson, and Sanders. Between the two of them Mooney and Jackson juggle at least 10 different roles while Sanders has at least four. Jackson brings forth a beautiful deep voice to his Prof. Ken character and then teams up with Mooney as Shinequa and Diane who provide most of the background vocals for Sarah's songs.
The highpoint of the second act is Sanders' battle with herself in "Bitch, Slut, Liar, Whore." Sanders plays both Belgoody and Ma Ferd, whose rivalry goes back to high school. When Ma Ferd hears that the mayor has tracked her down to her beauty shop, she exclaims, "The mayor? I can't be in the same room with her!" (Cue the rimshot.) Sanders makes the transition between the two characters look like a comic book version of a showdown between Jekyll and Hyde.
THE TOXIC AVENGER works because it doesn't take itself too seriously. Perhaps Bono and the Edge would do well to watch it closely before making a second attempt at SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK.
Short North Stage presents THE TOXIC AVENGER: THE MUSICAL 8 p.m. Aug. 30-31, Sept. 6-7, and 13-14 with special 5 p.m. matinees on Aug. 25-26 and Sept. 1-2, 8-9, and 15-16 and 9 p.m. late shows on Aug. 25 and Sept. 1, 8 and 15. Call 614-725-4042 for information.