Stage review: CLO Cabaret's 'Toxic Avenger' delivers a monstrously good time
October 5, 2016 1:32 PM
Evan Ruggiero as Toxie serenades Kate Sexton as Sarah in CLO Cabaret's monster musical comedy "The Toxic Avenger."
Billy Mason, left, Kate Sexton and Quinn Patrick Shannon show some girl-group power in the CLO Cabaret musical comedy "The Toxic Avenger," at the Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown.
From left, Billy Mason, Caroline Nicolian and Quinn Patrick Shannon play multiple roles in "The Toxic Avenger" at CLO Cabaret.
Evan Ruggiero, center channels his inner nerd, with help from Quinn Patrick Shannon, left, and Billy Mason in Pittsburgh CLO's "The Toxic Avenger."
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Welcome to Tromaville, New Jersey, where if the pollution doesn’t get you, the aroma will.
Even without the offensive olfactory sensations of driving through certain Jersey towns, you can sense what’s fermenting from the first look around the Cabaret at Theater Square. “The Toxic Avenger,” a raucous rock ‘n’ roll musical satire, has invaded the Downtown venue, now configured in an “L,” with sections of chain-link fencing, corrugated steel and chemical drums.
‘The Toxic Avenger’
Where: CLO Cabaret at the Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown.
When: Through Dec. 18. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $38-$54; clocabaret.com or 412-456-6666.
CLO Cabaret’s “Monster Musical Comedy,” as the subtitle reads, lets loose a potent combination of punny pop culture mayhem and a killer cast. The tongue-in-cheek show by David Bryan of Bon Jovi and Joe DiPietro — Tony winners for the musical “Memphis” — transforms the circa 1986 cult film into a wildly entertaining music-monster mashup.
New Jersey has long been the butt of jokes about it being New York City’s pungent dumping ground, and hometowners Bryan and DiPietro mine every low blow for laughs, along with a score that screams the ’80s. “The Toxic Avenger” had an award-winning off-Broadway run in 2009.
Evan Ruggiero, who lost his left leg to cancer, takes on his first starring musical theater role as the title character, and the show has been tweaked to incorporate his prostheses without ever making a fuss over them. As Melvin Ferd the Third, the town Nerd, he is the target of bullies. But when he tries to take on the company responsible for Tromaville’s toxic atmosphere, he is dropped into nuclear waste and emerges as Toxie — a gooey green guy with superhero strength.
Mr. Ruggerio is more believable as lovable unloved Melvin than a monster who can rip people apart — he takes vengeance in gruesome, hilarious ways — but that’s a good quality in this tale of romance and environmental treachery. Melvin/Toxie adores blind librarian Sarah, winningly played by Katie Sexton, who has her standards about the way a guy should look.
Where Melvin failed to win over Sarah, Toxie inspires “hot toxic love,” leading to such lyrics as, “You make me combust with chemical lust.” Sarah decides Toxie is French, with rhymes with “stench,” and so it goes. The rhymes, sight gags and puns of “The Toxic Avenger” push at the envelope of good taste, befitting a comedy about a town beset by corruption and nuclear waste.
The CLO Cabaret’s rookie lead actors are supported by solid veteran performances. Quinn Patrick Shannon and Billy Mason in multiple roles that include backup female dancers and Caroline Nicolian as the crooked mayor and Melvin’s mom take turns as outrageous scene-stealers. In one meta bit, mayor and mom are meant to be onstage at the same time, and the farcical accomplishment by Ms. Nicolian, with help from Messrs. Shannon and Mason, should earn howls of appreciation.
“The Toxic Avenger” employs the absurdities of the comic book genre to create a hero who will save New Jersey and along the way take a stand for environmental and disabled awareness. And in doing so, it comes out smelling like a rose.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.
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