Review - The Toxic Avenger at the Arts Theatre
It's a weird idea for a musical: a dweeby teenager, Melvin, falls into a vat of toxic waste, and emerges Toxie, a mutant with super-human strength who uses it to stop an evil corporation from polluting his hometown. But in David Bryan and Joe DiPietro's musical, that's just the beginning of the ensuing madness.
Set in New Jersey, where pollution has taken over the city with the Mayor unwilling to do anything about it, the musical sees Melvin (who is in love with blind librarian Sarah) become the Toxic Avenger and take justice into his own hands. It's what you'd expect from a typical B-movie superhero plot, and while it's pretty easy to follow with some genuinely very funny moments, it can be quite frustrating at times.
The upbeat opening song "Who Will Save New Jersey?" sets the tone for the evening, as a fish strapped to a remote controlled car whizzes across the stage, and director Benji Sperring wrings out every possible laugh he can see in the script.
Whilst the humour is unabashedly crude, which is always refreshing in the West End, it takes its toll early on. There are only so many cheap d*ck jokes you can make before they lose their punch, especially as the punchline is consistently "look, a penis". That's part of the problem of the humour, the jokes are too repetitive and not really funny enough to warrant it. The 'the blind girl is going to walk off the stage' gag is made four or five times in the first act alone and when you've seen that once or twice, you don't need it again in exactly the same form.
The music, written by Bryan (keyboardist in legendary rock band Bon Jovi), has a really great '80s rock vibe that gives the entire cast a chance to shine. Emma Salvo as Sarah has a huge voice, as does Mark Anderson as the titular mutant, which they demonstrate together in "Hot Toxic Love".
Ché Francis and Oscar Conlon-Morrey play a number of secondary characters throughout the show whose slapstick comedy probably garners the most laughs during the night. However, some numbers just don't work. "B*tch/Slut/Liar/Whore" sees Natalie Hope (who also has a great voice) act out an argument between two of her characters: Mayor and Ma Ferd. However, the quick-change aspect falls a bit flat, leaving the stage empty for half the song, and leading the audience into an interval (that we maybe didn't need) bemused.
The band of five are marvellous and in the second act, contribute to breaking the fourth wall along with the stage managers which injects a needed boost of different humour towards the end of the show. Designers takis should also be given credit for creating a brilliant toxic costume, and utilising every inch of the Arts Theatre stage to full effect.
It's bizarre, and it's not particularly intelligent viewing, but that doesn't really matter. The Toxic Avenger is certainly a unique show with some brilliant performances, and you certainly won't see anything else like it.
The Toxic Avenger Tickets are available now.
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