Watching Rorschach Theatre’s production of Toxic Avenger: The Musical, I wondered what it is about this show that makes it seem as indestructible as its mutant monster hero?
Toxic Avenger: The Musical, the joyfully schlocky show based on an obscure 1984 cult film full of New Jersey jokes, was not expected to have much of an afterlife when it debuted in 2008 at the George Street Playhouse in NJ or even after its successful nine month off-Broadway run where I caught it. It’s still a strong memory for me, ten years, and many musicals later.
Watching Rorschach Theatre’s terrific production of Toxic Avenger: The Musical (its first musical) I caught a sense of why it’s not likely to meltdown anytime soon.
First, Toxic Avenger: The Musical’s creative team had an excellent understanding of the source film’s successful mixture of farce, parody, and gruesome horror. Joe DiPietro (Memphis) contributed a wickedly smart and knowing book, David Bryan (Memphis collaborator and keyboard player for Bon Jovi) came up with cheesy yet catchy songs, and both wrote the lyrics. I suspect that original off-Broadway director John Rando contributed to nailing the tone of the show, which is similar to that of an earlier Rando-directed musical, Urinetown.
Subsequent productions (including and especially Rorschach Theatre’s production) have amped up the show’s already abundant comedy. While I expected that musicals veteran/first-time director Tracy Lynn Olivera would be skilled at staging the musical numbers, I was pleasantly surprised by her expert proficiency at handling over-the-top farce and her brilliant casting.
As good as Broadway veteran Nancy Opel was as a nun in New York, the lead’s mother, and the town mayor, Tess Higgins is even more fun here, especially in her deliciously demented portrayal of the evil mayor.
Perhaps the biggest bounce comes from the wonderfully incongruous odd couple Joshua Simon and Jordan Essex as the multiple role-playing “White Dude” and “Black Dude” respectively.
While good comedy is timeless, there is one last reason for the continuing success of Toxic Avenger: The Musical – it suits the zeitgeist of our era. Anyone who even remotely follows our divisive political scene has to be primed to enjoy a witty, entertaining parody featuring a corrupt politician. It’s an appeal not limited to either side of the aisle, since both sides routinely paint opposing leaders as dishonest, unethical, and even evil.
Perhaps there will come a day when our elected leaders and political pundits return to a greater degree of civility in their discourse. Until then, the subversive parody of Toxic Avenger: The Musical and its mutant monster, serve as a much-needed antidote.