The cast of The Toxic Avenger at New World Stages.
BOTTOM LINE: A great musical with amazing performances and hysterically funny scenes that make you laugh your guts out.
The Toxic Avenger is a musical that has a lot to love. It has quickly jumped into my top five list of favorite things I have seen in New York City in the last five years. From the moment the first two actors begin singing the opening bars and have to restart the song because of the noxious fumes that emanate from their beloved state of New Jersey, you know it's a show that is not taking itself too seriously. With a wink and a nod to the audience, the whole cast gives 100% in a show that is witty, clever and nonstop funny.
The show is essentially a story about a nerdy environmentalist, Melvin Ferd, who falls in love with a hot blind librarian, Sarah. In his quest to clean up New Jersey, he discovers who is behind the illegal toxic chemical dumping that is polluting his state. The shifty mayor tries to silence him so that the illegal dumping can continue and she can line her pockets with cash. Through the course of two bullies, a vat of chemicals and one musical number, Melvin is transformed into The Toxic Avenger and uses his new-found strength and self-confidence (although he is a little hostile) to clean up New Jersey and earn the love of Sarah.
With a score by David Bryan, Grammy-Award winner and founding member of Bon Jovi, the music walks a fine line between rock and musical theater. Both sounds are evident but neither is strong enough to alienate one genre from the other. The on-stage band of four really rocks out and looks like they are having as much fun as anyone else in the cast...which brings me to the cast. They kick ass. Even though there are only five people in the show, they play a total of at least 25 different characters. Kudos to the dressers who must have the fastest quick changes in the history of theater.
Nick Cordero is great as the geeky Melvin and shows great range when he becomes Toxie. Not only can he sing a sweet ballad, he can also rip it apart with the band as if he is singing a Bon Jovi song. Despite his menacing appearance as Toxie, he is able to show a sweet, insecure and goodhearted soul.
Sarah is played by Diana DeGarmo who shot to fame in the third season of "American Idol." Anyone who watched that show knows she can sing. Well, she can act too; she has great comic timing and is never afraid to make herself look silly for the sake of a laugh. In "Hot Toxic Love" she is very funny with a can of whipped cream and a see-through nightie.
Nancy Opel plays three roles, and is amazing in every single one. This woman is pure genius on stage. As the Mayor and Melvin's mother, she has created two completely different characters who have a history with each other and therefore can't be in the same room together. "It's impossible," says Ma with a nod to the audience. We know they can't be in the same room together because Opel plays both characters, but somehow they manage to do it. She has a duet with herself, "Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore" that is one of the funniest things I have ever seen on stage. Seriously, I want to go back just to see her do that again. Her Mayor is slimy and funny and she utilizes her breasts to full advantage during "Evil is Hot" when she does whatever she needs to do to get her way.
Desmond Green and Jonathan Root play every other role in the show from cops to bullies to hairdressers to old woman to children. When Sarah sings a song about her dream of her novel being chosen for Oprah's book club, the two guys morph into Tina Turner-esque back up singers and are hysterical. During a chase scene we get to see them go from character to character and they are brilliant. It's hard to pick out a favorite performer because I felt that whoever was onstage was my favorite at that moment.
Director John Rando also directed Broadway's Urinetown a few years ago. His ability to allow the audience to see through the zaniness and let the actors acknowledge the audience is what makes this show so successful. It moves at a quick pace and has no intermission. He inserts lots of sight gags and plenty of things that are just there to find if you look. He never takes it too seriously and it makes it a lot of fun. I love a show that is not afraid to make fun of the characters, like when blind Sarah enters and says her first line with her back to the audience; it's just funny, like her mismatched clothes and upside down wallpaper. I seriously think everyone would find something to enjoy about this show. It's just really funny. The music is great, the actors are great, the set is great. Go see it. Trust me.
(The Toxic Avenger plays at New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street. Performances are Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 8pm, Saturday at 4pm and 8pm and Sunday at 3pm and 7:30pm. The show runs 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $51.50-$71.50. For tickets visit telecharge.com. For more show info visit thetoxicavengermusical.com.)