TOXIC LOVE WARMS UP THE SUMMER AT SAN JOSE STAGE COMPANY WITH AN ENVIRONMENTAL TWIST
Tubs of toxic goop covers San Jose Stage Company’s regional premiere of THE TOXIC AVENGER now at the 1st street stage through July 16th. The toxic musical, 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. Book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro (Memphis) and music and lyrics by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan. This same team created “Memphis,” that went to Broadway and took the Tony Award for best musical. Director Jonathan Rhys Williams brings a clever craft team and cast of superb actors to bring on the glow and catchy, camp sometimes over the top “Hot Toxic Love” and a score of close to 20 songs. Musical director Brian Allen Hobbs and his angry on stage band make this two hour romp worth the risk of toxic death.
TOXIC AVENGER — The Musical is not just crazy funny, but also heartwarming. If the Beast, in Beauty and Beast can fall hopelessly in love, why can’t a disfigured stink bomb environmentalist win over your heart. The story opens with “Neighborhood” featuring the tight talented company: the likable Will Springhorn Jr. is the awkward Melvin who becomes the distracted hero Avenger; the adorable Courtney Hatcher as the blind sweet Sarah, the librarian, who of course, is Melvin’s love interest. They both have perfect timing and comic skills in the song “Hot Toxic Love”. The other three members of the full throttle cast play the other nine roles, including the thrilling Allison F Rich as the Mayor. Her “Jersey Girl” number is a highlight of the first act with swank pop choreography by Brett and Carmichael Blankenship. Rich has the pitch perfect voice to squeal as the villain, and to bring out tears as Toxie’s mom, Ferd, she moans, “I wanted Melvin to be a lawyer, but now he’s a mutant killer.” Rich is a tour de force on stage.
The foolproof Brenden Noel Thomas, and the sizzling Joshua Marx play all the other roles that include two sassy women, the majors goons, professor Ken, Sluggo and Jersey cops. They blow down the San Jose Stage in “Get The Geek” and “Evil is Hot”. THE TOXIC AVENGER can best be described as gooey. Even our hero’s secret identity carries no hint of a hunk: Melvin Ferd the Third is more of a nerd. No good looks for "Toxie," as his blind girlfriend who piles up blind puns and the sold out audience loved them all. The glowing mutant do-gooder is from Tromaville, a town just off the New Jersey Turnpike, where a sign proudly welcomes you to the "Toxic Capital of the World”.
“When your face looks decayed, it’s hard to get laid,” Toxie sings and at time you get a hint of “Rocky Horror” in the score. The story sticks with our hero Melvin Ferd, who aspires to clean up pollution in his hometown. When he protests, Mayor Babs Belgoody, of course, wants him gone. The environmental message inside TOXIC AVENGER is about as subtle as a Greenpeace protest at the Golden Gate Bridge. But you have to love a comedic musical arc where the 11 o'clock number is a love power ballad that includes the chorus: "You make me combust/With chemical lust/Now, don't be scared of/My hot toxic love." One of the better lines: "There's a place between heaven and hell/Don't need a map, just follow the smell/A place filled with filthy air/ A place you have no prayer/A place called New Jersey" a hint of Bon Jovi hit "Livin' on a Prayer."
Thomas and Marx deftly switch from one outrageous character to the next without missing a beat or an opportunity for pirouettes. Marx facial expressions and comic timing draw big laughs. Rich plays both the mayor and Ferd’s mother in quick changes and, in one scene, simultaneously, when she argues with herself is a song “The Chase.” Springhorn as Toxie miraculously sings, dances and romances the wide-eyed Hatcher while wearing a monstrous face mask. Ashley Garlick’s outlandish costume works like singing Gumby in Springhorn’s high light solos “Kick Your Ass” and “You Tore Out My Heart”. The marvelous Hatcher is electric in her company numbers “Big French Boyfriend” and her reprise of “Hot Toxic Love”. The lusty Allison Rich, as the villain Mayor and Toxie's Ma Ferd, faces the situation of meeting her second half on stage in an out-of-this-world showstopper at the end of Act One.
The over the top green monster designed by Garlick is a cross between a drunk Gumby and Swamp Thing. The set and lighting design is by the polished Michael Palumbo who kept the glow of the goo and banks of lights bright and almost like a rock concert. His set is based on Video Designer Vijay M. Rajan’s projections that splat both blood and a cozy toxic hometown feel. Scenic Artist Lacey Bryant has some wonderful set props for the players to dive into and escape, too. The audience enters the SJ Stage having to avoid barrels of toxic waste and warning hazards. Steve Schoenbeck’s sound designs include all the clever gunshots and goo plops; his rigging of the mic on the monster is well done. Hobbs’ five man rock band includes Ryan Stohs, Gus Kambeitz, Anthony Pickard and Daniel Mandrychenko and they rip through a memorable pop rock score.
Williams’ fast pace in your face direction keeps the show silly, camp and comic book perfect. The savvy Blankenship’s dance numbers like “A Brand New Day In New Jersey” are high stepping romps in 90’s dance mode. The musical rips along, like reading 20 comic books at Comic-Con. The velocity of verbal puns and costuming gags is matched by the speed of the musical numbers, 19 in rapid succession. Goofy dance routines, great singing, hilariously funny lines from campy characters and a cautionary environmental message make TOXIC AVENGER a hit. Toxie's hilarious anti-pollution adventures in his particular world of superhero, political and musical theater parody couldn't arrive at a better time. TOXIC AVENGER closes out the San Jose Stage Company’s successful culturally diverse 34th season. They have announced their new season that begins in September.
San Jose Stage Company Presents
The Toxic Avenger
Book and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Music and Lyrics by David Bryan
Based on Lloyd Kaufman's film of the same name
Directed by Jonathan Williams
Music Director Brian Allan Hobbs
Choreographers CJ & Brett Blankenship
Must close July 17, 2017
SAN JOSE STAGE
490 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95113
Two hours with an intermission
For tickets ($30-$65) contact San Jose Stage Company
box office at 408-283-7142, or www.thestage.org
All photos credited to Dave Lepori