In its world premiere at George Street Playhouse, “The Toxic Avenger” strikes with a heady dose of nasty humor accompanied by a musical score of little distinction or melodic substance. The tuner is based on the 1985 Troma comic cult film that spawned three follow-ups and a kiddie TV cartoon show. Despite a generous serving of gore and the dizzying expertise of five terrific actors, the single-minded joke is stretched thin and the show plays like a wannabe “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan has fashioned a score essentially structured on repetitive musical patterns and dotted with some witty lyrics. These are co-written with Joe DiPietro (“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”), whose book traces a graphically amusing narrative populated by broadly drawn characters.
As the mild-mannered bookish nerd transformed into a gooey folk hero, awash in globs of slime waste, Nick Cordero is Melvin Ferd the Third, who manages to amuse despite the fact he cannot seem to get his eyeball back in place. It’s a grotesquely stylized and campy performance that makes the character into a huggable super-freak.
Also adhering to the cartoonish mold, Nancy Opel plays corrupt mayor Babs Belgoody and Audra Blaser is Melvin’s girlfriend Sarah, an insipid, blind librarian who walks into walls with the bumbling grace of Mr. Magoo. Blaser gets the musical’s best song, “Hot Toxic Love,” along with the show’s most tasteless joke, in which Helen Keller burns her hand while attempting to “read” a hot waffle iron. Melvin can only justify the love of Sarah with “Thank God She’s Blind.”
Doubling as mayor and the monster’s mom, Opel stops the show by appearing garbed half-and-half as both characters in a side-splitting scene.
David Josefsberg and Desmond Green are a dynamic duo in a series of costume and wig changes, as cops, thugs, old ladies and, most distinctively, a pair of Motown backup singers.
Gruesome special effects are executed with amusing dispatch, including the dismemberment of limbs, heads and assorted body parts. Director John Rando (“Urinetown”) has staged the piece with a fluid hand, accenting manic physical humor that should please shlock horror fans.
Beowulf Boritt’s imaginative set design focuses primarily on a toxic waste dump structured out of a mountain of barrels that shift aside to view Sarah’s apartment and the mayor’s office. The latter offers a wall covered with pics of past U.S. presidents, topped by the face of Sarah Palin. The Garden State takes a goodly share of ribbing in “Who Will Save New Jersey?,” which concludes with the line, “If the pollution doesn’t get you the aroma will.”
Despite George Street artistic director David Saint’s announcement that a proposed move to an Off Broadway house is in the works, the musical likely will represent a marketing challenge.