BWW Review: Street Theatre Company is on a Roll This Season: Go See TOXIC AVENGER For Proof
Greenawalt, Bruno, Whitcomb-Oliva, Ridley and Smith Will Knock Your Socks Off
Street Theatre Company has been on a bit of a roll in 2019 - there's been a spate of terrific shows, the move into an impressive new space on Elm Hill Pike that will allow the company to grow, and they've continued the legacy created by company founders by continuing to push the envelope in ways creative and exhilarating - and theater-goers need no better proof of this than with their Halloween Season offering of The Toxic Avenger, which proves that entertaining musicals don't need huge casts or technical wizardry to be utterly delightful.
Even if the leading man looks as if he could get extra work as a whisperer on the set of The Walking Dead, playing one of the latest villains in the post-apocalyptic zombie world (If you are unfamiliar, look it up - I don't have time to go into that in this review of The Toxic Avenger - I have things to rave about - which continues for one more week, and besides you need to be making reservations right now anyway...I'll wait for you...), when Ryan Greenawalt plays him, with his customary charm and amazing vocal abilities, you're gonna think he's swell, no matter.
Based on a 1984 B-list (hell, it probably ranks lower than that, come to think of it) horror film of the same name, The Toxic Avenger has been turned into a musical by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan (the pair won a Tony Award for best musical for Memphis - another show that won accolades for STC a few seasons back) and what it lacks in pretension, it more than makes up in fun.
Directed with a distinct flair by Sawyer Wallace, with musical direction by the recently married Randy Craft (congratulations to him and Alex Hopper, who just returned from an idyllic Italian honeymoon), Greenawalt heads a cast that includes Katie Bruno, Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva, Alan Smith and David Ridley. And take it from me, gentle readers, they're all you (or any musical theater director worth her or his salt) need to bring a show to life with verve and complete, unadulterated outrageousness.
I can't remember the last time I laughed so loud at a musical. Who, I ask you, would have thunk it?
On paper, at least, The Toxic Avenger hardly sounds like my cup of tea - let's face it, I love the traditional in musical theater, in which a handsome, strapping leading man meets the girl (or boy) of his dreams and they encounter obstacles to their happiness - wait a damn minute! The Toxic Avenger has all the elements of traditional musical theater, albeit with nuclear waste and the aforementioned leading man who looks several weeks past his expiration date, and it has a great big heart.
Plus, there's that five-member cast who, quite frankly, I would follow from stage-to-stage to see them in action. In fact, my bags are packed and I am ready to hit the road with them as they take this show all over the effin' country to entertain unsuspecting audiences.
Greenawalt is absolutely terrific as the nerdy Melvin Ferd III, who is the victim of bullies and blind girls everywhere. However, thanks to the fact that an evil mayor has arranged for their New Jersey town to become the dumping ground for nuclear waste - and the fact that two bad guys have thrown him into a giant vat of glowing-green muck, he emerges reimagined and, truth be told, kind of hot (in a radioactive way), to win the heart of blind and dumb (but not in the silent Hellen Keller sense of the word, but more in the sense of - well, I can't think of a good comparison here, so insert your own) Sarah, the town librarian who longs to become a writer if she can figure out a good storyline. Played by Bruno, Sarah is over-the-top hilarious and she can belt out a showtune with the best of 'em, even if her character somehow doesn't recognize Melvin's voice when he becomes Toxie (aka The Toxic Avenger), whom she believes to be a well-constructed Frenchman.
Greenawalt and Bruno are ideally paired as the unlucky-at-love romantic duo and their onstage chemistry (ba-doom-ching!) is swell, as they play off each other with stylish aplomb and a sense of complete trust.
The leading couple are backed up in their awesome onstage efforts by the remarkable trio of Whitcomb-Oliva, Ridley and Smith (which sounds like an accounting firm, don't you agree?), who play all the town's citizens with a no-holds-barred abandon that works marvelously.
Whitcomb-Oliva, surely one of the most accomplished actors in this region, adds the word "comedienne" to her already burgeoning resume in her showstopping dual turn as both Ma Ferd (Melvin's sometimes shrewish, sometimes loving mother) and as the despotic town mayor (who's the personification of political evil - with ample sexiness thrown in to really screw with your perception - and she's a nun in the show's opening number). "Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore," the musical number that ends Act One, allows Whitcomb-Oliva to completely steal the show from the rest of the ensemble in a tour-de-force performance that's impossible to explain here, simply must be viewed in person to really appreciate Whitcomb-Oliva and the off-kilter sense of humor employed by the creative teams who have brought The Toxic Avenger to the stage.
Ridley and Smith show off their own comic chops, their way with a song and their ability to make quick changes, playing "Black Dude" and "White Dude" respectively, and in the process knocking off the socks of every audience member fortunate enough to watch the two men deliver the goods.
Perhaps most impressive about The Toxic Avenger is the entire company's approach to the zany comedy of the DiPietro and Bryan (he of Bon Jovi fame, by the way) script and score that is perfectly suited for this time of year, but would be a welcome diversion at any time any theater company decides to mount the show. The cast very intelligently approach the material with customary deference, playing their roles with utmost respect and seriousness, in order to deliver one of the funniest - and "funnest" - shows of the year.
Wallace does double-duty as the show's scenic designer, supported grandly by Kelly Scheuman's lighting design, Jacob Allen's sound design, Sarah Levis' props and Lori Gann-Smith's terrific costumes. Lee Druce, on keyboards and as conductor, leads the five-member band - which includes Brad Williamson on drums, Cameron Cleland on guitar, Charlie DeVillers on bass and Raymond Ridley on reeds - that supplies the music for the five-member ensemble of consummate triple-threat performers in the spotlight.
The Toxic Avenger. Book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro. Music and lyrics by David Bryan. Based on Lloyd Kaufman's The Toxic Avenger. Directed by Sawyer Wallace. Musical direction by Randy Craft. Presented by Street Theatre Company, 1120 Elm Hill Pike, Nashville. Through October 26. For details, go to www.streettheatrecompany.org, or call (615) 554-7414. Running time: 2 hours (with one 15-minute intermission).