Before creating the acclaimed musical Memphis, the team of Joe DiPietro and David Bryan wrote another show, The Toxic Avenger. Based on a cult B-movie from the 1980s, it is an unusual subject for a musical – but some of the best shows I’ve seen have come from the most unlikely sources.
The Large space at the Southwark Playhouse has been transformed into a New Jersey waste dump, which has turned local town Tromaville into a hotbed of pollution. In a bid to impress blind librarian Sarah, local nerd Melvin goes on a mission to stop the dumping of toxic waste, only to be dumped into aforesaid waste by the corrupt mayor’s hired goons. This transforms him into an unlikely superhero…
This outrageous and thoroughly un-PC musical has a serious point – pollution is bad for the environment – but that’s the only serious thing about it. The Eighties-rock influenced score is full of memorable tunes and daft lyrics – “Thank God she’s blind”, sings the newly-monstrous ‘Toxie’ about his lady love – while the storyline is as gloriously silly as they come. The small cast of five are tremendous. Mark Anderson convinces as both the nerdish Melvin and the unlikely superhero, while Hannah Grover has impeccable comic timing as the lustful librarian. Lizzii Hills is brilliant as both Melvin’s mother and the wicked town mayor: at one point she sings a duet with herself – Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore is one of the show’s highlights.
Deserving of special credit are Ashley Samuels and Marc Pickering, who between them play every other character in the show – and there are a LOT of them. From high school bullies to camp hairdressers, little old ladies to Sarah’s glamorous girlfriends, they are utterly brilliant and make the cast seem much larger than it is.
This silly, glorious show is so much fun. Leave your brain at the door, head inside, and enjoy.