Thursday, October 22, 2015

Actors’ Playhouse: The Toxic Avenger (reviews)

APMT toxic_logoActors’ Playhouse opened its production of The Toxic Avenger at the Miracle Theater on October 14, 2015.
Based on the classic cult film of the same name, this new rock-pop musical is a charming, exhilarating and hysterical love story that has it all – an unlikely hero, his beautiful girlfriend, a corrupt New Jersey Mayor, and two guys who play EVERY other character in the play; including bullies, monsters, old ladies and stiletto-wearing back up singers. “Toxie” is an unconventional contemporary love story with an environmental twist that will rock the house and leave audiences laughing out loud.
David Arisco directed a cast that included Julie Kleiner, Clay Cartland, Laura Hodos, Dexter Carr, and Joshua Dobarganes.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Artistic director David Arisco and his team have gone all-out to turn the spoofy musical into immersive theater, reconfiguring the upstairs Balcony Theatre so that the audience appears to be sitting in the toxic waste dump otherwise known as Tromaville, New Jersey. Detritus, general junk and vats full of dripping green toxic goo dot the evocative set by Gene Seyffer and Jodi Dellaventura.
David C. Woolard’s costumes, adapted by Ellis Tillman for this production, are the Off-Broadway originals. And Louis Zakarian’s mask and prosthestics transform Cartland from meek Melvin to the Hulk-like Toxie…
Arisco has also loaded his cast with top-tier musical theater talent… The committed, impressive cast sells the material as if it were Grade-A satire, but the songs, lyrics and book of the musical seldom rise above C level. Cartland and Kleiner make the lovelorn mutant and sexually frustrated librarian into a sweet, funny couple, and they turn up the heat on their duet Hot Toxic Love. Hodos, whose powerful voice could peel the goo from the waste barrels without any amplification, revels in her roles as the villainous Mayor and monster Ma. Dobarganes and the crazy-funny Carr pop into and out of drag with aplomb.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Somewhere under the green slime encrusted set of The Toxic Avenger at Actors Playhouse, a nuclear plant must be melting down all China Syndrome like. That might explain the raw power emanating from this hilarious hoot of a rock musical… what makes this delightfully over-the-top production triumph over the weaker parts of the material are the atomic, uninhibited performances… from this cast of five belting rockers
We keep saying how inventive Arisco is in his comic direction and how bottomless his bags of tricks must be. To see what we’re talking about, check out this production with its perpetual motion staging stopping only for some classic bits of comedy business.
Arisco has cast the show perfectly. Cartland, once again, proves to be one of the best musical performers in the region who combines an inventive comic mind with a sub rosa skill with a song. Even encased in the considerable prosthetic makeup, his voice and body language convey his character’s conflicted emotions.
Kleiner perfectly shuttles among Sarah’s disparate sides: naïve yet knowingly sensual, open-hearted yet smart enough to guard her self – a kind of street-smart cheerleader, a cross between Buffy and Willow. She can drop her cartoony girlish ingénue voice into a basement belt.
Dobargnes and Carr may seem like secondary foot soldiers, but in fact, they may be busier than the leads as they go off-stage for only a minute or even seconds to change from nitwit varsity bullies to mobsters to old ladies to spangle-garbed girl group back-up singers. Each has a fine strong voice on display when they get a solo number.
Leaving perhaps the best for last is Hodos who has a brassy belt that whiplashes the audiences while her eyes blaze and her lips form a voracious grin. In one supremely silly scene… the actress then proceeds to perform a duet with herself flipping back and forth in and out of curtains until she ends up doing a Jekyll-and-Hyde routine.
The gloriously noxious set was designed from a technical angle by Gene Seyffer (he has solved a dozen behind-the-scenes challenges such as allowing Melvin to transform into the Avenger is less than two minutes). The decrepit look of the scenery that makes you want to disinfect your hands afterwards is the work of Jodi Dellaventura. Their work is enhanced by lighting designer Eric Nelson and sound designer Shaun Mitchell who pumps out the band and voices at tsunami level.
Roger Martin reviewed for Miami ArtZine:
Go see The Toxic Avenger at Actors' Playhouse. You'll find two hours of caustic wit, rock classics such as Kick Your Ass, My Big French Boy Friend, Thank God She's Blind and the immemorial Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore.  Thank Joe Dipietro and David Bryan, who teamed on the Tony winning Memphis, for the book, music and lyrics of The Toxic Avenger. Brilliant stuff. But no more brilliant than the performances of actors Clay Cartland, Julie Kleiner, Laura Hodos, Dexter Carr and Joshua Dobarganes.
Cartland… is transformed into The Toxic Avenger (that New Jersey sludge will get you every time) or Toxie, as Sarah (Kleiner), the blind librarian, calls him. And I defy anyone in the house to find a gag about blind librarians that isn't in this show and that Kleiner doesn't pull off without the help of even one seeing eye dog.
Hodos plays bad girl Mayor Babs Belgoody, Melvin's mother Ma Ferd, and a nun. Being Hodos, she's wonderful in every role and busting out all over the place in Evil is Hot with Professor Ken, played by Carr, who is also known as the Black Dude. The White Dude is played by Dobarganes and he and Carr are also New Jersey natives Bozo and Sluggo and in drag as back up singers Diane and Shinequa. Dobarganes is also Sal the Cop and the Folk Singer.
David Arisco musically staged and directed the show with much humor in every minute. Fine, fine, feel good stuff.
The Actors’ Playhouse production of The Toxic Avenger plays at the Miracle Theater through November 8, 2015.

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