PLAY REVIEW: Salem Community Theatre rocks ‘The  Toxic Avenger’

In 1984, little known Troma Entertainment released a campy, grotesque horror film filled with comedy and over the top gore that for the most part went wildly ignored.

“The Toxic Avenger,” a film centered on a mop pushing geek who gets pushed into a vat of Toxic sludge who comes out as a hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength, only gained notoriety a year later after a long and successful midnight movie engagement at the famed Bleecker Street Cinema in New York City. Obtaining cult classic status, the “Toxic Avenger” went on to spawn three sequels, and now, following a trend of Horror Classics turned into stage productions, is a musical.

The Salem Community Theatre opened up its two weekend run of “The Toxic Avenger” this past Friday and Saturday night, and it did not disappoint. Written by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan of Bon Jovi fame, this is a rock musical which delighted the audience from the opening number. 

Tromaville needs a hero, and Melvin Ferd the Third is just the person. After discovering that the corrupt mayor is profiting in polluting New Jersey, Ferd, who is essentially beat up by anyone and anything, sets out to stop her. But as luck would have it, before he can, he is thrown into a vat of toxic waste.  Luckily for his love interest, blind librarian Sarah, he doesn’t die, but is transformed into the mutant superhero, Toxie.

Director Dan Haueter and assistant director Tim Gotschling have assembled a magnificent cast for this production.

Matthew Schomer shines as Melvin and Toxie. His ability to go from a nerdy weakling to a mutant superhuman is amazing. At no point after his transformation to Toxie does the audience remember that it was Schomer portraying the geeky Melvin during the opening part of the production.

Tara Holl is booming as the evil Mayor Babs Belgoody, and we instantly hate her. Holl, like much of the cast displays her swag by playing multiple roles, as she also portrays Melvin’s cranky mother, switching back and forth with ease.

Act one closes out with Holl portraying both characters on stage at the same time, and it is a real treat.

Carly Ellis is adorable as Toxie’s love interest Sarah. Ellis has great stage presence, and she portrays the part of the blind librarian with comedic ease and makes the part her own.

Sarah Kinser and Haueter himself round out the cast of five, portraying every other character in the fictional town of Tromaville. Both Haueter and Kinser have more costume changes and characters than one can keep count, and the campiness in some of the characters is a jolt of fresh air too many times what becomes stale theatre.

The set design is simple, but effective and realistic as it looks just as one would imagine a toxic waste dump, or any other dump for that matter to look.

The rock score by Bryan is sensational with plenty of big bang numbers such as “Who Will Save New Jersey” and “My Big French Boyfriend”, of course, there is a comedy element to most, if not all of them. Act one was a big long however, and a few of the scene changes could have been quicker, but the cast made us forget about those brief delays once they returned to the stage.

The show is not politically correct, and does contain foul language and some adult situations, so leave the little ones at home. If you are expecting a gore fest, or a serious deep thinking musical piece, this is also not a production for you. “The Toxic Avenger” is a fun-filled ride of comedy, camp, and a toe tapping score. The production ends this weekend, Nov. 2-3, at the Salem Community Theatre. For information, visit salemcommunitytheatre.org or call 330-332-9688.

Editor’s note: Molley Lemley is a junior at Malone College pursuing a career in journalism and theatre. She hails from Tallmadge where she attended school. She can be reached at molliel2022@gmail.com

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