In my Boston Conservatory course, I assign my students an end-of-term project in which they devise two fictional musicals based on different genres. Not full-length musicals: just the show titles, plot synopses, song lists, and sample lyrics. The idea is for them to figure out what makes a certain genre distinct and then craft show summaries that reflect those distinctions. The genres include a George M. Cohan show, a "Princess" show, a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, and various others.
One of my favorite genres in the mix is what I call the "Campy Off-Broadway Bloodbath." You know, Little Shop of Horrors, Bat Boy, Reefer Madness, Urinetown, etc. Shows that have a higher body count than a Shakespeare tragedy, but have a heck of a good time in the process. Every so often, we come across a new entrant in this genre. The most recent was Evil Dead: The Musical, a show that thought it was a whole lot funnier than it actually was. (Read my review here.)
Which brings me to The Toxic Avenger Musical, now playing at the New World Stages. The show is based on the camp 1984 movie "The Toxic Avenger," which is pretty darned awful, but has achieved a certain cult status. Unfortunately, the musical version comes across more like Evil Dead than Bat Boy, although, to be fair, Toxic Avenger is considerably better, at least on paper, than Evil Dead. But the latter show ironically wound up being more memorable: Evil Dead at
least had its ballet-of-blood finale, which was a frickin' hoot. Toxic Avenger has some mildly
humorous material, mostly aimed at New Jersey. (And, oh, what an
untapped comic treasure trove that is. Sort of like mothers-in-law, or
airline food.) But once the style of the show settles in, the whole affair quickly grows tedious.
The book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) are sporadically amusing. The music comes from Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan, who also contributed to the lyrics. The whole show comprises material that on paper must have seemed really funny, but that falls pretty flat in performance. Which is surprising, giving the level of talent onstage, and the fact that the director here is John Rando of Urinetown. There's some sharp staging in evidence, but there's only so much Rando could do with this raw material. The show includes some very clever and funny sequences, but they're ultimately overshadowed by a preponderance of ingredients that don't quite achieve their comic potential.
The show's five talented performers seem to be working extra hard to make it work, and the sweat shows, which of course kills much of the comedy. Nancy Opel is always a joy, and here she seems more in her element than she was in the tour of The Drowsy Chaperone. (Read my review here.) Matthew Saldivar provides a fairly substantial spark onstage, as he did in The Wedding Singer, although when he's called upon to play female roles, which is relatively frequently here, he seems extremely uncomfortable. The protean Demond Green is a welcome discovery; he handles a wide variety of roles here with equal aplomb. And Sara Chase and Nick Cordero are more than serviceable as the central couple, "Toxie" and his blind paramour.
Also, one thing I found entirely unforgivable was the show's running time: an hour and 50 minutes WITHOUT AN INTERMISSION. There really ought to be a law that, if you're putting on a show without an intermission, it shouldn't go over 90 minutes. For any show that does, the creators should be forced to sit through every performance. After drinking a Big Gulp. 'Nuff said.