‘Toxic Avenger’ battles evil, belts out songs
BY MIKE GORDON / firstname.lastname@example.org
Beware, bad guys, bullies and polluters: The Toxic Avenger is coming to Manoa and he’s bringing his brand of New Jersey justice. Plus a driving musical score that will remind you of Bon Jovi.
The avenger’s name is Toxie. He’s a 7-foot-tall mutant superhero who can sing.
‘THE TOXIC AVENGER’
Presented by Manoa Valley Theatre
» Where: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Rd.
And when Toxie helps open Manoa Valley Theatre’s 45th season next week as the star of the hilarious musical “The Toxic Avenger,” those who know his story promise that audiences will leave each performance humming and head-bobbing as if they’ve just been to a 1980s rock concert.
“To me, when I read the script, it was like part rock concert and part comic book,” said the show’s director, Hannah Schauer Galli, who sees those two themes as a beautiful marriage.
“Well, those two can go together,” she said. “Put a superhero in the middle of a rock concert and suddenly he is the frontman of the band.”
The musical will be familiar to fans of the schlocky, violent cult movie of the same name. Created by filmmaker Lloyd Kaufman, it became a B-movie standard after it was released in 1984 by Troma Studios. The movie put the studio on the map and Toxie has become Troma’s official mascot.
But the musical, which first ran off-Broadway in 2009, has a different story even though its lead character is still a giant green mutant from New Jersey.
That didn’t matter to Galli, a veteran local director, until she learned who else was coming to Manoa: Kaufman.
The filmmaker is coming from his studio in Long Island City, N.Y., to Hawaii as a guest of Manoa Valley Theatre.
Kaufman is making the trip to Hawaii — his first ever — to support community theater and the cause of independent art, and he’ll also be visiting his cousin, local attorney Rick Fried.
“I hope he will just come out and rock out with us,” Galli said. “The script itself is not the same as the movie at all.”
Of course not. It’s a musical, not a horror story.
When Galli first heard the music for “The Toxic Avenger,” she thought of the rock concerts of her youth and especially the music of New Jersey band Bon Jovi. It was a natural connection: David Bryan, keyboard player for Bon Jovi, wrote the music and some of the lyrics. He was joined by playwright Joe DiPietro, who wrote the book.
To help cast members prepare for their parts, Galli shared her concert experiences. The 38-year-old Galli, who works as the costume manager at the University of Hawaii’s Kennedy Theatre, told the actors what it was like to be a screaming teenage girl who suddenly makes eye contact with the lead singer.
“For those two hours at a concert you are more alive than at any other time,” she said. “The music is loud and pumping through the floor. There are lights. There is something about that heightened experience that is similar to a comic book, where everyday life isn’t like the everyday life we know.”
Such is the story of “The Toxic Avenger.” The hero of the musical is Melvin Ferd the Third, a skinny, mild-mannered geek who wants to clean up Tromaville — the most polluted town in New Jersey. But the efforts by this would-be environmentalist are sidetracked — or so it would first appear — when he’s dumped in a vat of radioactive toxic waste.
Melvin doesn’t die and instead becomes a gooey green freak with superhuman strength and a bad disposition. He’s Toxie.
Joshua Haili-Silva stars as Melvin/Toxie. It’s his first lead role, and he said he’s ready for a lot of green makeup and a chance to rock on stage.
His last production was two years ago in Paliku Theatre’s “Phantom of the Opera.” He was part of the ensemble. One song and then he helped move sets.
Haili-Silva wants Toxie to come across like a rock star.
“If you can’t enjoy the music yourself, if you can’t enjoy getting into it, just rocking out, then no one else will feel it,” he said. “So going up to the band and getting in their face and singing with them while they rip out a nice chord, that’s what makes it. It’s super fun.”
Kaufman can hardly wait to see it. He said he likes the musical adaptation, which is the third one created after his film became a cult favorite.
The first version, which he saw, was produced by a fan group in Portland,
Ore., that called it “Toxic Avenger: The Musikill.” Another group in Omaha, Neb., staged its own version. Unlike most Hollywood producers, Kaufman didn’t care.
“We let them do it,” Kaufman, 67, said in a phone call. “We didn’t try to squeeze them. They were fans. We believe in sharing art.”
The producers of the off-Broadway version were inspired by the Omaha production and hired DiPietro and Bryan, who found a way to broaden the appeal of Troma Studios’ campy humor. When it ran off-Broadway, the audience ranged from senior citizens to Troma Studios fans “with tattoos and things coming out of their noses,” Kaufman said.
“They have mainstreamed ‘The Toxic Avenger,’” Kaufman said. “And yet the hilarity has been more than preserved. It’s been amplified.”
But that’s not his best praise.
“You go out singing all the songs,” he said. “And the lyrics are witty. It’s wonderful.”