Christopher Bentivegna's See 'Em On Stage production company has produced comedy musicals based on zombie and slasher movies, and now he's added a lovable nerd thrown into an oil drum full of radioactive waste who becomes an unsightly freak. It may be difficult to imagine, but The Toxic Avenger — The Musical is not just crazy funny, but also heartwarming. If the hunchback in The Phantom of the Opera can fall hopelessly in love, why not a disfigured environmentalist?
The show, which won an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical, spoofs a cult classic 1984 science fiction film produced by Lloyd Kaufman. Though the music, directed by Ronald Joseph, is not Tony Award-caliber, the songs are catchy, clever and well-delivered. Especially noteworthy are "Hot Toxic Love" and "Evil Is Hot," a tango.
In the style of Blue Man Group, the theater's front row is a "splash zone," and anyone sitting there risks being doused with blood, guts, French toast batter, instant whipped cream, ketchup and industrial waste hurled during the course of the show.
The story is about anti-hero Melvin Ferd (Kevin Murphy), who aspires to clean up pollution in his hometown, Tromaville, New Jersey. When he protests, Mayor Babs Belgoody (Janie Heck) silences Ferd with a job. She also appoints a blind woman (Elyse McDaniel) to the position of city librarian, so that incriminating evidence about the evil Good Earth Corp. can be stashed and never revealed. Ferd falls for the sweet, Bambi-legged librarian, Sarah, who somehow manages to catalog and alphabetically shelve books despite her disability. McDaniel does a priceless imitation of Patty Duke as Helen Keller, flailing her arms while staggering about the stage. From Ferd's point of view, Sarah's blindness is a blessing because it keeps her from being scared by his awkward appearance and — after the dip in nuclear waste — grotesque facial features. She assumes his nickname, "Toxie," is French.
"When your face looks decayed, it's hard to get laid," Toxie sings.
The mayor's goons, Black Dude (Luke Halpern) and White Dude (Eli Timm), believe they have disposed of Ferd only to have him emerge from the muck with superhuman strength. With such a small cast, Halpern and Timm assume roles too numerous to list. Halpern deftly switches from one outrageous character to the next without missing a beat or an opportunity for pirouettes. Timm's facial expressions and comic timing draw big laughs. Heck plays both the mayor and Ferd's mother in quick changes and, in one scene, simultaneously, when she argues with herself.
Ma Ferd moans, "I wanted Melvin to be a lawyer, but now he's a mutant killer."
Murphy miraculously sings, dances and romances the wide-eyed McDaniel while wearing a monstrous face mask and Kevlar costume.
An abundance of sight gags, goofy dance routines, great singing, hilarious lines from campy characters and a cautionary environmental message make Toxic Avenger a hit.