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ATC's Toxic Avenger Wreaks Hilarious Musical Havoc
Picture by George Hendricks
October 28, 2016
Photo: Jeremy DeCarlos as Toxie (by George Hendricks)
Just in time for Halloween and its tragicomic transformations, Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte is presenting its rebirth on Freedom Drive through a raucously rebellious 2008 musical satire of a 1984 horror comedy film about a toxic-waste superhero. While its new theatre is not quite ready, ATC is performing The Toxic Avenger (through Nov. 12, ticket and times info here) next door in the Center City Church auditorium. But this production fully explores the infectious satirical potentials of the musical (book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro, music and lyrics by David Bryan), resonating with current local news of toxic coal ash pits and protests against police violence. It overflows from its narrow stage with barrels of glowing green sludge, through doors at the sides, into the aisles and seats of the audience—offering a powerful band, polished voices for the hilarious lyrics, and a complex mix of dance styles.
The plot is simple, yet with a double conflict: the nerd, Melvin Ferd, after turning into the superheroic “Toxie,” fears contact with his blind sexy babe, Sarah the librarian, and battles an also sexy, corrupt Mayor of Tromaville, NJ, who makes money by taking NYC’s waste. The amazingly versatile Jeremy DeCarlos plays Melvin/Toxie, as a singing Hulk, werewolf, Frankenstein combo, with a bit of a “Yes, we can” (or could have) Obama. Leslie Giles is equally compelling as the sweetly earnest, romantic-novel-writing, gotta-get-onto-Oprah, “hot” yet blind ingénue, Sarah. She also transforms from a short-skirted, cane-whipping librarian to lusty lover in a nightie, and to overalls-wearing, gun-toting, action heroine, with many comic moments in her sight-challenged use of stage and auditorium.
Lisa Hugo plays the consistently villainous, yet costume-altering Mayor and another character, Melvin’s mother, even doubling them as they fight in a hair salon—in a tour de force of theatricality. (She also plays a nun in the opening song about the city.) Ryan Stamey and Dominique Atwater become superheroic transformers throughout the show, as bullies, cops, doctor and professor, Latina hairdressers, and many other comical characters, some of which get torn apart by Toxie. Indeed, applause must go to all involved in this production, especially special effects artist (with costumes and props) Melissa Brown, lighting designer Ryan Maloney, choreographer Tod A. Kuhn, onstage music director and keyboardist Brad Fugate, and director Chip Decker, along with stage manager Christy Edney Lancaster, holding it all together each night.
Many of the song lyrics are disgustingly delightful. Sarah sings an “Oh my God” song with her gal pals (Stamey and Atwater) about her “big French boyfriend” after feeling his bulked up toxic pecs, but not his decayed face, and over-romanticizing Toxie’s new name. His mother, on the other hand, offers a brutally honest view, singing: “You’re such a disappointment.” There’s a beautiful, ironic duet between Toxie and Sarah, about being “so scared of my hot toxic love.” There’s also an “evil is hot” tango as the Mayor seduces a professor (Atwater) to get her secret weapon against Toxie. Intrusions repeatedly occur with a Folk Singer (Stamey) insisting on his “Legend of the Toxic Avenger.” But the best might be Toxie’s mom consoling Sarah, after she feels his face and dumps him in horror, by singing: “All men are freaks.” The final song also triumphs, with current reflections, as Toxie and Sarah succeed in both love and politics—producing an offspring who combines their disablingly hilarious super-powers.
Thus, serious insights bubble up, in this satirical musical, as Toxie goes wild through his righteous, yet riotous rebellion against political corruption and environmental pollution—causing more damage to possibly innocent people. Hopefully, Charlotte theatre-goers will not be scared away, though, and will continue to support ATC’s various strengths, exemplified by this show. For it is transforming Freedom Drive now, like Toxie, through infectiously entertaining, yet also wise(cracking) ideas.