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BWW Feature: MASH NOTE TO 'AMERICAN IDIOT' AND 'THE TOXIC AVENGER' at Firehouse Theatre Project And 5th Wall Theatre

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BWW Feature: MASH NOTE TO 'AMERICAN IDIOT' AND 'THE TOXIC AVENGER' at Firehouse Theatre Project And 5th Wall Theatre

Somewhere back in the naughts Carol Piersol's Firehouse Theatre Project started adding out-there musicals to their summer schedule, presumably to attract a younger audience. Beginning, I think, with "Reefer Madness: The Musical" in 2008, the offerings included "The Rocky Horror Show," "Rent" and "The Great American Trailer Park Musical." Several were directed by Jase Smith.

Carol Piersol continued the practice when she started 5th Wall Theatre, doing shows like "Lizzie," the rock opera about Lizzie Borden, and "Carrie the Musical." Meanwhile, Firehouse produced its own summer favorites, like the delightful "Heathers."

But for me, the peak summer wackiness came in 2016 and 2017, when Firehouse did "American Idiot" and then 5th Wall did "The Toxic Avenger."

"American Idiot," based on the Green Day album, broke the summer fun mold in that it isn't a comedy, but rather a fairly serious take on the drug-fueled punk scene. Those time-tested Billy Joe Armstrong songs are powerful, and they drive the tacked-on plot by Armstrong and Michael Mayer with nonstop energy. Under the direction of Adam B. Ferguson and music director Matt Koon, cast members doubled as musicians-a perfect choice-so the actors were asked to do a lot.

They delivered. The show was a flash of energy from start to finish, with strong, moody performances from Denver Crawford, Anna Rose, Kelsey Cordrey, Mike Bamford and Ben Wilson. Rachel Hindman blazed out of the show like a fireball as the drug dealer St. Jimmy. I was blown away.

The next summer I contemplated having to see "The Toxic Avenger," which sounded like a low-rent "Little Shop of Horrors" to me. I listened through the cast album maybe once or twice before going and heard a glimmer of hope, but I was not prepared for the hilarious fun of seeing the show. Written by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan-I may have failed to notice that their 2002 "Memphis" had won Tonys for Best Musical and Best Original Score-this thing was a perfect choice for the summer madness series.

The director was Keith Fitzgerald, and the cast was top-notch. You had Alexander Sapp as the sludge-altered hero Melvin. You had Rachel Rose Gilmour as the ditsy blind love interest. You had Chris Hester and William Anderson playing all the supplemental roles. And most of all, you had Debra Wagoner playing both Melvin's mom and the corrupt mayor-a performance that, in my mind, will stand as one of the greatest showpieces ever.

These people can sing. And as always, I am wowed when actors throw themselves unreservedly into even the silliest shows, and "The Toxic Avenger" is certainly that. It was an all-out laugh fest, the kind of thing that I love best.


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From This Author Susan Haubenstock