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The Toxic Avenger

a Musical Comedy
by Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics), David Bryan (music and lyrics)

COMPANY : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 4850

SHOWING : January 29, 2016 - March 13, 2016



"The Toxic Avenger," winner of the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical, is a hot toxic love story and laugh-out-loud musical that has it all —— an unlikely hero, his beautiful girlfriend, a corrupt New Jersey mayor and two guys who play…well, everyone else…bullies, mobsters, old ladies, and stiletto-wearing back-up singers. Melvin Ferd the Third wants to clean up Tromaville, the most polluted town in New Jersey. Foiled by the mayor’s bullies, Melvin is dumped into a vat of radioactive toxic waste, only to reemerge as The Toxic Avenger, New Jersey’s first superhero. Affectionately known as Toxie, our new hero is a seven-foot mutant freak with superhuman strength and a heart as big as Newark. He’s out to save New Jersey, end global warming, and woo the blind librarian in town. "The Toxic Avenger" will leave audiences laughing in the aisles as it rocks the house.

Director Heidi Cline
Melvin/The Toxic Avenger Nick Arapoglou
Babs/Ma/Nun Leslie Bellair
Sarah Julissa Sabino
Black Dude Michael Stiggers
White Dude Austin Tijerina
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Do the Hokey-Jokey
by playgoer
Friday, February 5, 2016
Under Heidi McKerley’s direction, "The Toxic Avenger" is a broad, loud mess of a musical. There’s sensory overload, with Mary Parker’s lights hitting the audience in the eyes and Rob Brooksher’s sound design making the bass line thump and muddying vocals when voices are at full volume. There’s brilliant color, in both the visible and ultraviolet spectra, in the scenic and costume design of Moriah & Isabel Curley-Clay. And there are performances that pop off the stage into the stratosphere.

The score is rock-inflected and the book is jokey. It’s a pretty silly affair, really, with a blind heroine stumbling all over the stage, a male lead in a monster costume, and three other actors taking on role after role after role (when they’re not playing two roles at once). Ms. McKerley has directed them to blow through the show with unbounded energy, leaving subtlety in the dust. The choreography, by Heidi and Jeff McKerley, is similarly un-subtle, with heavy emphasis on air guitar and other stereotypical moves.

One misstep in the show, at least in early performances, is having electric guitars actually played in one number by the Toxic Avenger and his blind girlfriend. Her supposed blindness is compromised by her having to look at her fingering. It’s a cute idea, but backfires a bit.

There’s some shtick that sticks to the wall and some that doesn’t. So much of it is flung around that the percentage doesn’t need to be all that high to entertain. It’s all over-the-top fun.

Nick Arapoglou plays the male lead, and he is in glorious voice throughout, whether as nerdy Melvin Ferd at the start of the show or as the grotesque Toxic Avenger. He adds a couple of comic bits, but his character is primarily the center of the show, around which mayhem revolves. Julissa Sabino, as his blind librarian girlfriend, doesn’t have a voice to equal his in quality, but it’s powerful and generally pleasing. The other three actors have fine voices, but they’re required to vary their vocal quality for their various roles, letting character dictate the sounds they produce.

Leslie Bellair takes on three roles, scoring in all three (although her tour-de-force song that ends the first act is staged in a way that could truly work only on a proscenium stage, and doesn’t show off her voice to its best advantage). Austin Tijerina ably takes on a number of roles, with little of his trademark acrobatics, and Michael Stiggers impresses with vocal, acting, and dancing skills. His dance with Ms. Bellair is the choreographic highlight of the show, in my opinion.

S. Renée Clark provides excellent musical direction. The five-person band plays loudly and with great vigor. The score may not be ringingly memorable, but it is lively. Unfortunately, the final number is one of the weakest, with alternating phrases "Bollywood" and "New Jersey" not making a whole lot of sense. It’s as if the silliness of the story got to be too much for the authors, and they just threw something together to end the show. Or perhaps "Bollywood" is a baffling interpolation by the director, since I find no trace of it in the published vocal selections. Some shtick sticks, and some doesn’t. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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