Toxic Avenger: The Musical Theatre Review
Written by Simret Cheema-Innis
Played at The Southwark Playhouse, London
Directed by Benji Sperring
Based on the film by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz
Play Written by Joe DiPietro
Music and Lyrics by David Bryan 2016, 130 minutes
Mark Anderson as Melvin Ferd the Third/The Toxic Avenger
Hannah Grover as Sarah the blind Librarian
Lizzii Hills as Mayor Babs Belgoody/Ma Ferd/A Nun
Marc Pickering as White Dude/Folk Singer
Ashley Samuels as Black Dude/Professor Ken
Over the last few years, there’s been a resurgence of horror theatre giving us that little bit more variety when it comes to the genre we all love to devour. Live horror has always been around, take 18th century Gran Guignol, founded in Paris or even traditional African Griot storytelling, where singers, poets and musicians would tell a whole manner of stories concerning ghosts, the supernatural, sermons and even rap to live audiences.
In the recent years we’ve had Let The Right One In, a play derived from the Swedish horror film, Jakop Ahlbom’s terrifying Horror!, Andy Nyman’s immersive West End play Ghost Stories and in March The Ghost Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, an intelligent anthology play by Kim Newman and friends. It’s equally refreshing when a horror musical reveals itself because, lets face it, there don’t seem to be many.
Taken from the Troma three-movie series The Toxic Avenger, Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz’s fantastically absurd film was bought to life on stage at the Southwark Playhouse this month.
Set in New Jersey, Melvin Ferd the third (Mark Anderson) is a meager wannabe scientist everyone loves to hate. He spends his days trying to woo Sarah (Hannah Glover) the blind Librarian he’s in love with and who has no idea of his devotion. But Melvin is also on a mission to stop the toxic waste pandemic in New Jersey and when he threatens to expose the sexy but wicked Mayor Babs Belgoody (Lizzii Hill), she sets the towns bullies to arrange his demise. On one unfortunate evening, cornered by the bullies, Melvin is thrown into the very toxic waste he’s trying to eradicate. Thus enter Toxie as Melvin transforms into a hideously deformed mutant who develops super human strength and a newly acquired ability for dealing with the corrupt and nefarious characters in New Jersey.
This is the first horror themed musical that I’ve experienced on stage where the cast looked as if they were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Their catharsis mesmerised the audience from start to finish that the two hours, excluding the interval, whizzed by. Although there isn’t as much semi-nudism and sexual flapdoodle as seen in most Troma movies, the innuendo and bad taste still holds its own.
Actors play at least three or more roles each with dedication; camp nuances dominate the play with its drag queens, transgender characters and even a gay salsa teacher. Along with the rocky musical score, there are also heavy gospel and Latin influences which work their way into many of the scenes. A favourite of mine is the ‘Evil So Hot,’ number where Mayor Babs Belgoody (Lizzii Hills) seduces Professor Ken (Ashley Samuels) with a provocative Argentinian tango. Other bizarre musings include a folk singer who looks like a young version of musician/songwriter David Bryan, writer of the original music and lyrics for the play.
On stage, the chemistry between all of the actors and their interchanging characters is flawless, even the more challenging scenes, where actress Lizzii Hills plays both Melvin’s mother and the Mayor at the same time with perfection. It’s almost like a parody of Norman Bates and his mother from Psycho, but set to the song ‘Bitch/slut/liar/whore,’ another brilliant scene which demonstrates just how innovative you can be when working with a small cast and a multitude of characters.
Toxic Avenger: The Musical has toured in many countries now from the USA where it originated, Canada and now the UK. If it were to play anywhere else, I would watch it again, there definitely needs to be a sing-along-version. You will leave feeling elated, turned on, if like me you have a penchant for monsters and going on YouTube to source songs like ‘Hot Toxic Love’ and ‘All Men Are Freaks.’
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