BWW Review: THE TOXIC AVENGER: THE MUSICAL at Rorschach Theatre
With very few exceptions stage musicals based off of comic books and horror movies are never truly successful. You're a Good Man Charlie Brown and Little Shop of Horrors are two very rare examples where those genres succeeded commercially.
Rorschach Theatre is not only taking a chance producing a musical based on The Toxic Avenger Marvel Comics series they have chosen to make it their debut musical production. Some might say that the company is asking for it but let me tell you here is a case where everything is done right with a very pleasing result for all that choose to come and see.
How did they do it? First off, they went and hired one of DC's best performers to make her DC professional directing debut. May we all just rise and say "All hail to Tracy Lynn Olivera" for helming a production that has just the right balance of genuineness and B- movie camp. Olivera gets top notch performances out of her five member ensemble with three of the actors assuming multiple roles throughout. There is at least one transformation you have to see to believe.
The Toxic Avenger: The Musical has a book by Joe DiPietro and is set in beautiful Tromaville, NJ.where the mayor (Tess Higgins) is doing what NJ politicians do best. That would be taking kickbacks from a high powered chemical company called The Good Earth in return for them being able to dump and store toxic waste. Melvin Ferd the Third (Ricky Drummond) is a wannabe earth scientist hell bent on saving the state. At the town library Melvin meets Sarah the librarian (Emily Levey) who is blind. When Melvin gets his hands on the town's records that will expose the mayor's shenanigans she sends her two flunkies Bozo and Sluggo (Joshua Simon and Jordan Essex) on to rough him up. This results in Melvin being dumped into a vat of toxic waste which turns him into a mutation. Meanwhile, Sarah and Melvin develop a relationship even though she has no idea that her new friend who she calls Toxie is actually Melvin. What will happen to our hero? Will he make NJ a better place? Will the mayor wipe out Toxi? Will Sarah and Melvin end up together? These and other questions will be answered if you grab some tickets to see the show.
The performances as previously stated are all top notch.
I am very happy to see Emily Levey back onstage in a leading role. Her portrayal of Sarah is just terrific. Levey has a big belt sound and it is used to full potential in the showstopper "My Big French Boyfriend". Her softer side comes out in full later on her duet with Drummond entitled "Hot Toxic Love".
Ricky Drummond as Melvin/Toxie is equally as engaging as a performer. He has so much sincerity in his portrayal of a guy that wants to do the right thing for his state. Two of his vocal highlights are "Kick Your Ass" and "You Tore My Heart Out".
Tess Higgins as the mayor and also Melvin's mom has perhaps the most challenging song in the whole show because it's a duet with her. The little ditty is entitled "Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore". Think Jekyll and Hyde "Transformation" for how Higgins plays both roles at the same time. It's quite remarkable.
Joshua Simon and Jordan Essex play everything from cops to drag queens to professors and more. Simon's vocal feature as a folk singer entitled "The Legend of the Toxic Avenger" is a definite standout. Jordan Essex, whose primary credits are from productions at Catholic University, has a very promising career ahead of him. No two characters he plays are alike. Please look out for him in the future.
David Bryan's music and lyrics (DiPietro co-wrote some of them) features large Broadway style numbers like the opener "Who Will Save New Jersey" and the finale "Brand new Day in New Jersey" and much more.
The score was orchestrated by Bryan and Christopher Jahnke and is played here by a red hot five piece band under the fine music direction of Jake Null. I for one love to acknowledge the musicians when I can so with Null on piano we also have Alex Aucoin on drums, Jason Wilson on bass, Dana Gardner doubling on multiple reed instruments, and Brad Emmett (at my performance subbing forJaime Ibacache) on guitar.
The production elements frame the actors perfectly. Patti Kalil's unit set screams New Jersey toxic waste dump with garbage et al tossed around much of the set and the corridor entrance to the auditorium. Frank Labovitz's costumes as always are truly fab. Katie McCreary' lighting is appropriately eerie. Gordon Nimmo-Smith's sound design is expertly mixed with perfect audibility by Kristina Manente.
Once again the god of the fight Casey Kaleba proves that it can look real while not ever harming a performer in the process. I am once again in awe.
The Toxic Avenger:The Musical is a first class production from start to finish. Here's hoping Rorschach Theatre continues producing musicals because their debut one certainly hit a grand slam.
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission.
The Toxic Avenger: The Musical runs through March 1 2020 at the Silver Spring Black Box which is located at 8641 Colesville Road in Silver Spring, Maryland.
For tickets, click here.