It Ainâ€™t Easy Being Green: The Toxic Avenger Stalks Falcon Theatre Stage
by Ken Stern
In todayâ€™s toxic political environment, more communities than fictional Tromaville can use avengers who beat the bad guys, become governors and sing â€œThe first bill that I plan to pass / Pollute the earth, and Iâ€™ll kick your ass.â€ But thatâ€™s the finale, and there is a great deal of musical theatre leading up to it.
Welcome to the, sadly, fictional world of The Toxic Avenger, playing at the Falcon Theatre through October 15. Yes, it is comic book camp: evil-doers, thugs, overbearing mom, and a love story, of course, running through it.
This is a big production on a small stage. It is overdone from the start: toxic waste barrels line the walls, with green glitter ribbon oozing from them (Charles Russell, set designer). From the castâ€™s opening number, â€œWho Will Save New Jersey?â€ it is camp. The cast wastes no time ascending beyond caricature, with the nun (Amy Grace Curtis; equally strong as The Mayor and Ma Ferd), offering a bras dâ€™honneur (arm of honor, or f**k yourself) gesture while commanding center stage.
This isnâ€™t your parentsâ€™ musical, even their rock musical. And it is not for your kids, either: the dialogue and lyrics are frequently X-rated, and the actions on stage reach R-rating status (get brownie points by bringing your teens). But it is all high energy and a ton of fun, and the audience hooped and hollered from the first number to the hand clapping finale.
When a song (â€œThe Legend of the Toxic Avengerâ€) as well as the show is named after you, you have pretty big shoes to fill. And Zachary Huffman does admirably well. He is one big Toxic Avenger: the legend and the lead. Kudos to costume designer Josh Newman for starting Melvin Ferd III in black glasses taped at the bridge. Huffmanâ€™s transformation from nerd to monster is at the hands of the Black Dude (et. al, DeAndre Smith) and White Dude (et. al, Robert Breslin).
This is a cast of all stars: there are small parts, but all share almost equal stage time. Smith and Breslin make up an ensemble of two, playing some dozen characters between them. Is Breslin best as a cop, or a bully (different parts) or a little old lady or a folk singer? Maybe as the backup (girl) singer?
Hard to choose. And Smith, whose roles ranged through cop, backup (girl) singer, (another) little old lady and more, was an equal partner in crime, and song. Suspension of disbelief was mandatory, since he is bearded.
Breslin gets the best line of the night: â€œI didnâ€™t do it,â€ when, as a cop brandishing his pistol, a shot is fired and a black man falls.
And the (excuse me) sight gags: Sarah (Katie McCarthy, driven to sexpot-dom by her lust), the (convincingly) blind librarian (repeatedly) missing the doorway and hitting the wall. Her singing (in duet, with Toxie) â€œYou make me combust / With chemical lust / Now, donâ€™t be scared of / My hot toxic / Hot toxic loveâ€ is strong. It gives away her true natureâ€”as does her actions.
And then there is the Mayor (and Ma Ferd). She is evil, but more. As she sings: â€œWhat the hell has evil got that makes it so hot?â€ Her coup de grace is her duet duel with herself inâ€Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore.â€ Curtis is a one-woman Laurel and Hardy, racing off-stage, changing costumes, coming back on as Ma Ferd, then off-stage and sticking her head out as the Mayor. This culminates with Curtis center stage, split as The Mayor and Ma Ferd and singing both parts.
It is one thing to sing with passion and bodily throw yourself into the song. It is quite another for an entire cast of five, playing close to 20 parts, to do it with flair and talent and skill. This cast does.
Director Charlie Russell, Musical Director Jay P. Myers, and Choreographer Pam Blessing were the brains and talents behind the scenes. Book and lyrics are by Joe DiPietro; music and lyrics by David Bryan; based on Lloyd Kaufmanâ€™s movie â€œThe Toxic Avengerâ€. The Toxic Avenger won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical.
The websiteâ€™s (falcontheater.net) cutline for the production ends: â€œthis one will sell out.â€ They are right: It will. Shell out your green: Go.
Playing at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth Street, Newport, Kentucky 41071; Box Office: 513-479-6783.