What a disgusting, wonderful and tromatic bit of theatre The Toxic Avenger musical is. The show, which began its month-long run at Southwark Playhouse on the 22nd, is a romp through the toxic waste that is New Jersey filled with romance and plenty of sex jokes.
The Toxic Avenger musical, follows a similar, but notably different plot line from the 1984 film. Here, the musical focuses much more on Toxie’s relationship with his blind girlfriend Sarah. There’s a lot more character development with her as we learn that she wants to write a book that Oprah will put in her book club. Gone are the four main tormentors from the movie (you know, the ones that like to run over children for “points”). Instead there is a stronger focus on the main villain: the mayor, who is played as a woman (Lizzii Hills, who also plays Ma Ferd).
A running gag is the use of the musical’s small cast. There are only five actors: two (Toxie and Sarah), who always stay in character and the three remaining actors cover the rest of every character needed in each scene. The insanity of the three actors running and doing quick changes is charming and offers up some of the best laughs in the show. “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore” has the Mayor facing off with nemesis Ma Ferd. The song escalates from the actress chatting to herself behind a curtain to literally jumping back and forth between her two parts.
The musical first opened in New Jersey at the George Street Playhouse in 2008. The musical had its first off-Broadway production the following year. The musical was written by the same minds behind the Memphis musical, writer Joe DiPietro and David Bryan. Yes, that David Bryan. The one from some band called Bon Jovi.
With Bryan behind the music, the musical very much clings onto an 80’s vibe. Occasionally swinging from 80’s ballads worthy of any hair band to a song that John Cougar Mellencamp is waiting for royalties on. But since this is a musical inspired by a Troma film, everything is a bit filthy and always tries to cross some sort of line.
The cast at the Southwark Playhouse was truly fantastic. The parts of White Dude and Black Dude (Marc Pickering and Ashley Samuels, respectively) were a personal highlight. The two play rolls tirelessly. Jumping from one character to the next with unbeatable comedic timing. Hills was fantastically evil as the mayor. And the leads played by Mark Anderson and Hannah Grover, did such a great job of nursing the small, strange romance that they were put in charge of.
Fans of the well-loved Toxic Avenger movie will have nothing to worry about: their movie has been well-adapted into the new medium and makes a great European debut in London. While the plot does focus a lot more on relationships than violence, the humour of Troma still remains intact in every bit of the musical. I’m sure it has brought a tear to Lloyd Kaufman’s eye.
As with the true spirit of Troma, much of the humour and wit of Toxie will be lost on most “arts critics,” but that’s why no one listens to them anyways. The Toxic Avenger musical is sweet, gross, offensive and most of all: hilarious as fuck.
The Toxic Avenger is at the Southwark Playhouse, running until the 21st of May. You can buy tickets here.