Go Green with Toxie

brittany gray and evan alexander smith.
photo by paula wilson
Prior to seeing DanCap’s newest musical, The Toxic Avenger at the Danforth Music Hall on Saturday evening, the buzz that I heard about the show was, “I didn’t think I would like it… but I really, really did.” I too was initially skeptical of this musical, based on Lloyd Kaufman’s campy cult horror film of the same name, which I have never seen. The reviews from the show’s Off-Broadway run had been generally favorable, citing only the music (by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan) as being the weakest link. But, reading the synopsis, the plot also seemed absurdly silly to me. And yet, I have to say, in all, I quite enjoyed my evening.
The plot is absurdly silly, but it is also strikingly charming. It’s obvious that Lloyd Kaufman owes much of The Toxic Avenger to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s 1982 musical Little Shop of Horrors. Melvin Ferd the Third is a bookish environmentalist to rival Ashman and Menken’s botanist Seymour Krelbourn, who uncovers the secret to New Jersey’s toxic waste problem before two thugs throw him into a vat of ooze in attempt to silence him. When he emerges, he has been transformed into a mutant with super-human strength who vows to dedicate himself to cleaning up New Jersey at any cost. Melvin’s Audrey is a beautiful, blond, blind librarian, who writes erotica on the side, named Sarah who falls in love with “Toxie,” the mutant, blissfully unaware of his green, slimy appearance and bulging eyeball. The book by Joe DiPietro is entertaining and Bryan’s music may not be a masterpiece, but it is catchy enough and some of the songs are really fantastic. The Toxic Avenger does not have the same brilliance as Menken and Ashman’s Little Shop of Horrors, some of the characters are a bit more watered down than they could have been, but in all, DiPietro and Bryan have created a funny, enjoyable evening at the theatre.
It is John Rando’s direction, however, that gives The Toxic Avenger the extra shot of oomph that ensures that every moment of the show will be milked for the absolute maximum of hilarity. He finds every comic moment in the script and creates his own quirky moments as well, such as when Sarah speaks passionately into her teddy bear’s crotch and when she wanders offstage whilst singing, which is the cherry atop an entire cupcake’s worth of visually impaired gags. With only five actors playing dozens of characters, the entire show is a costume change marathon, which also becomes a running gag within the show to the point that Louise Pitre sings a duet with herself onstage as the entire scene dissolves into hysterical chaos. There is a great moment during “The Chase” which is a lovely homage to Urinetown, the musical for which Rando won a Tony Award in 2002.
Unlike Urinetown, however, The Toxic Avenger does not have the same dark humor and Brechtian sense of urgency that pastiches the American musical to suggest that life in the post-modern world is ultimately unsustainable. The environmental messages and references to Global Warming in Toxic Avenger seem tacked on to a story that is ultimately about the relationship between Toxie and Sarah. That being said, there are a few moments that warrant serious reflection, in particular the line “no more garbage in New Jersey cause we dump it in Vermont,” which suggests that even with such a Superhero in their midst, the toxic waste that plagues our planet still gets tossed from one dump to the next, while the real issue, curbing the creation of such waste, is ignored completely.
The cast of this show is uniformly incredible. Jamie McKnight is White Dude (and plays dozens of different characters in constant, rapid succession); the highlight for me was his Bob Dylan-esque folk singer with a penchant to ramble. Brittany Gray plays Sarah with bold comedic timing in a style that is Little Shop’s Audrey meets Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods with a dash of Jenna Jamieson thrown in for good measure. Gray brings the house down with her rendition of the brilliant song “My Big French Boyfriend,” showing off her incredible belting chops and how seamlessly she takes command of the stage. Evan Alexander Smith makes a lovely and sympathetic Toxie and he shows off his beautiful voice especially well in the song “Thank God She’s Blind.” Daren A. Herbert plays Black Dude and he has vibrant, incredibly energy in every part he plays and gives the show its sharpest and most surprising moments of comedy. He is incredibly captivating to watch (he also looks better in a short denim skirt than I do).
I dare you to try to tear your eyes away from Louise Pitre when she is singing. She gives a Broadway caliber performance in all three of her roles and was simply magnificent. She alone is reason enough to check out The Toxic Avenger, you haven’t experienced all that Canadian musical theatre has to offer until you have seen her mesmerize an audience.
The Toxic Avenger certainly wasn’t the most profound show that I have seen this month, but with all the garbage that has been pouring onto Broadway lately (and then floating our way), I am relieved to report that this Avenger has proven not to be so toxic after all.
The Toxic Avenger plays at the Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth Avenue) for tickets visit this website or call 416.644.3665.

Incoming search terms:

  • jamie mcknight

Leave a Reply