THE TOXIC AVENGER – The Musical
Arts Theatre, London, Saturday 28th October, 2017
“Based on a film everyone watched when they were stoned” is just one of the knowing lines in this fabulously funny show by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, getting a bang up-to-date revival at London’s Arts Theatre. Topical references are spot on, along with countless references to other musicals. The cast of only five go all out to populate the story with larger-than-life, comic book characters in this story of violent vengeance and eco-politics.
Mark Anderson is sweet as nerd Melvin who, after being dumped in toxic waste becomes Toxie – he’s even sweet when he’s ripping off the limbs and heads of his foes. Love interest comes in the shape of blind librarian Sarah – Emma Salvo in a scene-stealing turn; outrageously funny and a powerful singer, Salvo is an undiluted delight. Natalie Hope doubles as Melvin’s Ma and as the evil Mayor – the demands of the score require her to sing a duet with herself in a show-stopping number that closes the first act. It is breath-taking.
Playing all the other roles are Che Francis and Oscar Conlon-Murray is a dazzling display of versatility. I particularly like Francis’s pouting Shinequa and Conlon-Murray’s overacting Folk Singer.
The humour is dark, the message green, and the music is rocking. For the most part, the score is strong. It is ironic that Toxie’s ballad, Thank God She’s Blind, sounds a lot like I Can See Clearly Now! Led by Alex Beetschen on the keyboard, a tight quintet blast out the tunes while the voices of the cast soar. A highlight for me is Toxie’s plaintive You Tore My Heart Out. Lucie Pankhurst’s quirky choreography adds to the energy and the fun. Benji Sperring’s direction keeps the action moving so we almost forget the cast is so small. In fact, the show makes virtues of its perceived shortcomings, with many frame-breaking laughs to be had.
It will win no prizes for subtlety but this small-scale show seems much bigger than the sum of its parts. Corporate corruption must be tackled, along with dumping of nuclear waste and pollution of the environment – This might seem obvious but sadly we have no Toxie in real life to rampage through Westminster and bring those still at fault today to bloody account.