‘Toxic Avenger: The Musical,’ a haz-mat valentine to Jersey
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Nicholas White, a new contributor to Hero Complex, has a report on a New York stage production of the cult-classic film ... you can see footage from the production below as well.
‘The Toxic Avenger,’ that gloriously ripe camp-horror film in 1984, never really disappeared, but who would have expected it to reach the stage as an off-Broadway musical 25 years after it first made a haz-mat splash?
After several months at New Jersey’s George Street Playhouse last fall, the kitschy ‘Toxic Avenger: The Musical’ gets its opening night in Manhattan on April 6 (following previews that began March 18) at New York’s New World Stages.
“I think the people in the show give it some validity,’ says star Nick Cordero, who plays the Avenger and his nerdy alter ego, Melvin Ferd. ‘With the Broadway climate nowadays, there is no shortage of theaters wanting shows. It wasn’t as hard to find a theater as it was finding the right one.”
Tony-winning director John Rando (‘Urinetown’) leads the show’s creative team, which includes Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan, who co-wrote the loopy rock-opera with songwriter Joe DiPietro.
Conceived in the spring of 2008, the ‘Avenger’ musical is set in aromatic (and fictitious) Tromaville, N.J., which holds the dubious honor of being the world’s most polluted city. “It’s poking fun of New Jersey in a good way,” Bryan says. “We [Bon Jovi] are from there, and we are not mocking ourselves out … everywhere on earth since ‘The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,’ it’s always the Jersey joke.”
Some of the tunes in the show: ‘It’s a Brand New Day in New Jersey,’ ‘Evil Is Hot’ and ‘Hot Toxic Love.’ Just as Hollywood mines old TV shows for high-concept ideas and name recognition, stage productions are looking to fanboy faves as unexpected source material, with high-profile ventures such as ‘The Fly’ at the L.A. Opera and the big-budget Spider-Man show planned. So it’s no surprise that ‘Avenger’ has the familiar beats of the old film, but also some 21st century messages stirred in with the vintage sludge.
In the old film, for instance, 98-pound weakling Ferd gets a nasty chemical bath in an accidental fall that can be blamed on cruel bullies; in the musical, though, the namesake character is thrown into a vat of toxic goo after challenging the local mayor on environmental regulations. “It’s timely,” Cordero says. “It’s got an environmental spin.”
Wait … is this the same Toxic Avenger that, in the first film, splattered a villain’s head under an exercise machine and cleaned up the mess with a mop? The same maniac that disemboweled a man with his bare hands? The Toxie on stage clearly is not the homicidal maniac of the original film.
“There is no pain involved, especially when I emerge as the Toxic Avenger,” Cordero says. “It’s for comedy and the shock factor. People don’t see it coming. I’m clutching [someone’s] fist as he’s about to hit me, and then I rip his arm off. I rip out intestines. I decapitate somebody at one point and dunk his head in his barrel like I was Earvin Johnson. The aim of the show is we want to get people a little scared. We want them to go, ‘Woah.’ Let their emotions get the best of them.”
The Toxic Avenger gradually abandoned its hardcore image after the original film’s release with three horror-comedic sequels, and eventually softened to the point of becoming a children’s cartoon, Toxic Crusaders, which aired briefly on Fox in 1991. Its creator, Lloyd Kaufman, whose Troma Entertainment created the features (hence the name ‘Tromaville’), has been at the musical stage production with a video camera shooting footage, Cordero says.
For you Jersey music fans, not only does the show take a few gentle shots at favorite-son Bruce Springsteen, but Bryan’s bandmates Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora are supposed to attend the April 6 bow, he says.
-- Nicholas White
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