REVIEW: THE TOXIC AGENGER (Southwark Playhouse)

Toxic Agenger
In a market often over-wrought by recognisable commodity, worldwide conglomerate and jukebox musicals, cult musicals are becoming increasingly popular. The Rocky Horror Show, Little Shop of Horrors and Carrie has led this trend, proving revivals and touring productions to be more popular that their original productions. Shows such as Heathers: The Musical, Reefer Madness and Cruel Intentions: The Musical continue this tradition with audiences enjoying their nostalgic fun and cleverly crafted scores. In this vein, Memphis writing team Joe DiPietro and David Bryan penned 2009’s monster rock musical The Toxic Avenger, based on the Troma Entertainment 1984 film of the same name. After opening Off-Broadway, the New York Times called the show “exuberantly silly”, while New York Post reviewed it as “hilariously funny”. Aria Entertainment opens the European premiere of The Toxic Avenger at the Southwalk Playhouse, with ‘Toxie’ fans from all over London oozing excitement!

The musical follows budding earth scientist, Melvin Ferd The Third and his attempt to eradicate Tromaville of it’s toxic waste problem. When the evil town mayor steps in and thwarts his efforts, Melvin is tossed into a vat of toxic waste and is transformed into New Jersey’s first superhero, Toxie. Now a seven feet tall mutant big green freak, Toxie uses his superhuman strength and massive heart to save New Jersey, fall in love with the prettiest girl and get his own back, all set to a hilariously fun musical rock score.

A group of five actors make up the cast of The Toxic Avenger ; Lizzie Hills playing dual roles of Toxie’s long suffering mother ‘Ma Fred’ and evil Tromaville town ‘Mayor’, Marc Pickering embodies many characters as ‘White Dude’, Ashley Samules tackles various roles with ease as ‘Black Dude’, while Hannah Grover plays blind librarian and Toxie-love interest ‘Sarah’ and Mark Anderson shines as our hero ‘Melvin Ferd The Third’, otherwise known as ‘Toxie’. All five actors expertly perform their respective roles. Mark Anderson’s charmingly pathetic ‘Melvin Fred The Third’ is adorable (actually apologising for singing a song reprise), while his hulking big green ‘Toxie’ enables Anderson to display his impressive vocal skill and character physicality. As ‘Sarah’ Hannah Grover’s performance perfectly complements Anderson’s as his self-assured experienced girlfriend and creates a believable utterly hilarious ‘Sarah’ that you can’t help cheer for. As ‘Black Dude’ and ‘White Dude’, Ashley Samules and Marc Pickering offer scene-stealing performances playing many characters including (seven year attending) high school football bullies, cops, hairdressers, mayoral thugs, musical theatre character parodies, scientists and folk singers. Each character is fully embodied, recognisable and brilliantly performed to help create a believable extended population of Tromaville (Tromavillians? Tromos?). In dual roles Lizzie Hills performs ‘Ma Fred’ and ‘Mayor’, including a duet between the two characters entitled ‘Bitch, Slut, Liar, Whore’, where she frantically runs backstage in between verses to change characters resulting in a franticly fantastic performance that deserves to be seen.

Mike Lee’s set design is clever and flexible. Created around barrels of toxic waste, it portrayed each polluted Tromaville scene effectively and really drew the audience into a world of toxic nightmares. Special mention needs to be given to Sophie Barlow and Jonathan Moriaty North for the incredible ‘Toxie’ costume, allowing Anderson freedom to move and perform the role, while wearing a bulking green body suit and headdress, complete with hanging eye ball. This cartoon-esque suit easily allowed the audience to connect with the story and characters and was believable as a big green toxic (French?) freak can be.

Director Benji Sperring’s The Toxic Avenger is a feel good, silly musical romp that is so much fun the audience gave the cast a well deserved standing ovation and left buzzing. Aria Entertainment’s production is sleek, well performed and will leave any cult musical fan going back for second helpings of ‘Toxie’ and his adventures in Tromoville.

Reviewed by Stuart James
Photo: Claire Bilyard

The Toxic Avenger plays at the Southwark Playhouse until 21 May 2016