Sinclair Theatre slices into cult horror with The Toxic Avenger

By Tim Smith

Photo: Thomas Puckett as Melvin/Toxie in Sinclair’s The Toxic Avenger, running April 12-15 photo: Patti Celek; costume design: Patrick Allyn Hayes

 

Take one cult, horror B-movie, add a contemporary rock score, throw in some laughs, mix in a romance between a mutant superhero and a blind librarian, and what have you got? Possibly the unlikeliest musical comedy of all time. But don’t be fooled or put off by this, because Sinclair Community College’s Theatre department manages to pull off The Toxic Avenger in grand style.

The stage version of The Toxic Avenger is based on a 1984 film written by Lloyd Kaufman and Joe Ritter. The original movie was a superhero horror film released by Troma Entertainment, a studio known for producing low budget B-movies with campy concepts and gruesome violence. It was virtually ignored upon first release, but soon became a mainstay on cable TV and the midnight movie circuit, developing a cult following along the way. It generated three sequels, a stage musical production, and a children’s TV cartoon. The stage musical was written by Joe DiPetro, with music and lyrics by DiPetro and David Bryan. It had its New York off-Broadway premiere in 2008 and performed over 300 shows before going on tour.

The plot concerns the geeky Melvin Ferd, who makes it his life’s work to find out who is responsible for the toxic waste dump in his hometown of Tromaville, “the most polluted town in New Jersey.” His research brings him in contact with Sarah, the blind librarian on whom Melvin has a crush. Sarah, however, is not attracted to the nerdy environmentalist and prefers him as a friend. Melvin eventually learns that the kickback-happy town Mayor, Babs Belgoody, is receiving corporate payoffs to allow the toxic waste to accumulate. When Melvin threatens to go public about her criminal behavior, she dispatches two thugs to silence him. Melvin survives their attempt to kill him with a toxic chemical bath and emerges as the hunky Toxic Avenger—or, as Sarah now calls him, Toxie. Thus begins Melvin’s new life as a mutant superhero crime fighter.

The story combines elements of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Incredible Hulk,” set to a rock music score. The play is a parody of conventional superhero horror flicks. It also makes a strong statement about global warming, water pollution, and corporate responsibility for the ecosystem. Since we’re talking about toxic waste dumps, New Jersey jokes are a given. The opening production number, “Who Will Save New Jersey?” describes the Garden State as “a place between heaven and hell / don’t need a map, just follow the smell.” Even the name of the town is a sly reference to the film’s production studio.

The six-member cast is fun to watch, especially those who perform multiple roles—and they’re clearly having a good time. Each person shows off singing, dancing, and comedy chops, and the whole production flows smoothly from overture to curtain call. Thomas Puckett as Melvin/Toxie and Courtney Kakac as Sarah have good chemistry, making the blossoming romance between the reluctant mutant superhero  and the shy-but- man-hungry librarian believable. Sha-lemar Davis is a hoot as both the mayor and Melvin’s mother, Ma. Her show-stopping first act number (the title of which I can’t print here) is a tour de force as she pivots between both characters. Rounding out the cast are Elisha Chamberlin, Elisa Fuentes, and Justin Lampkins, all playing numerous parts. Chamberlin and Lampkins are especially funny in their scenes together, and Fuentes does a hysterical turn as a folk singer.

The songwriting team of DiPetro and Bryan use the songs to tell the story, which keeps the dialogue to a minimum. Some of the more notable production numbers are “My Big French Boyfriend,” “Evil is Hot,” “You Tore My Heart Out,” “The Legend of the Toxic Avenger,” and “Hot Toxic Love.” The small pit band, consisting of Nancy Perrin, Damon Barnett, Tim Olt, and Elliot Hetzer, under the guidance of music director David McKibben, handles the complex score with ease. The direction by Chris Harmon makes good use of the multi-purpose set designed by Terry Stump, and everyone appears comfortable going through their paces. The choreography conceived by Rodney Veal complements the score nicely, and the cast ably handles the dance numbers.

Lighting designer Jadon Bischoff and sound designer Dan Brunk have created special effects that evoke the right atmosphere and add a touch of realism. It should be noted that fog, haze, and strobe lights are used throughout the production, as well as loud gunshots. Due to language and adult situations, this production is intended for mature audiences.

Whether you’ve seen any of the Toxic Avenger incarnations or not, treat yourself to this one. You’ll have a great time, and may even look at global warming and corporate environmental practices in a different light.

 

The Toxic Avenger takes the stage at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, April 12-13 and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 14-15 in Sinclair Community College’s Blair Hall Theatre, 444 W. Third St. in downtown Dayton. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students. (American Sign Language at April 13 performance.) For tickets or more information, please call 937.512.2808 or visit Sinclair.edu. 

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Tim Smith
Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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