AJC Review: Horizon unleashes campy kicks in ‘Toxic Avenger’

February 4th, 2016

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To how high a standard can you really hold something like “The Toxic Avenger”? It is what it is – a campy, lower-brow musical parody based on a cheesy, low-budget cult movie of questionable merit. The less you expect from the show in terms of basic originality or theatrical sophistication, the more likely you’ll be to give in to and go with the pure nonsense of it all.

(P.S. If you loved last year’s notably smart and stylish production ofthe musical “Memphis,” don’t even think about the shocking fact that the script and score for “The Toxic Avenger” is co-written by the same creative team, Joe DiPietro and David Bryan.)

Our hero is a nerd named Melvin Ferd the Third, an aspiring earth scientist and environmental activist of little self-esteem, who runs afoul of a corrupt gang of politicians and corporate types bent on turning his hometown of Tromaville, N.J., into a haz-mat dumping ground and wasteland. Left for dead in a vat of toxic goo, he emerges as a mutant monster with superhuman strength to take the wrongdoers to task.

But it’s not easy being green. When he isn’t persevering as an angry pacifist, literally ripping the bad guys limb from limb, he’s a hopeless romantic struggling to conceal his true identity from the woman he loves, Sarah, a blind librarian who affectionately nicknames him “Toxie.” As though that weren’t enough, during a couple of the musical numbers, he’s even compelled to play a mean harmonica, too.

In Horizon Theatre’s “Toxic Avenger,” Nick Arapoglou, the exuberant and engaging star of its “Avenue Q” a few seasons back, is a real kick in the title role, reuniting with “Q” director Heidi McKerley. Cast as his sweet love interest is Julissa Sabino, who shone in Actor’s Express’ recent “Rent.”

The industrious – and tireless – supporting ensemble features Leslie Bellair, Austin Tijerina and Michael Stiggers in a quick-changing multitude of other parts, ranging from a mad scientist and sassy hairdressers, to surly street thugs and a hippie folk singer, to a maniacal mayor and a meddling mother. They’re infectious fun to watch, especially Bellair in one terrific scene requiring two of her characters to be in the same place at the same time.

Under the music direction of S. Renee Clark, Bryan Mercer (on keyboards) leads a live four-piece band. The dozen or so songs — including “Hot Toxic Love,” “You Tore My Heart Out” and a pair of others that can’t be reprinted here — are more diverting than memorable.

Perhaps befitting of the source material, and for better or worse, the show’s production design is suitably tacky. At best, lighting designer Mary Parker occasionally uses black lights and glowing green slime to trippy effect.

However boisterously staged and performed it is, high art “The Toxic Avenger” ain’t. Get over it already, and then just enjoy.