The Toxic Avenger at Pittsburgh CLO | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Toxic Avenger at Pittsburgh CLO 

A musical adaptation of the cult film is goofy fun

Evan Ruggiero and Katie Sexton in Pittsburgh CLO’s The Toxic Avenger

Photo courtesy of Matt Polk

Evan Ruggiero and Katie Sexton in Pittsburgh CLO’s The Toxic Avenger

You’ve got two choices with the Pittsburgh CLO production of The Toxic Avenger: Sit in your chair rolling your eyes at the non-stop silliness — or climb aboard for an evening of goofy fun, and don’t worry whether culture has died.

This 2008 Off-Broadway show is a nutty musical inspired by the 1985 cult-favorite film about a young man in New Jersey, Melvin, who loses his nerdiness when he falls into a vat of industrial waste and emerges as a deformed superhero ready to rid his town of crime.

Book-writer Joe DiPietro uses just the basic plot from the movie, so fans should not expect a faithful adaptation. This Toxic is really about two things — milking every last joke out of New Jersey’s reputation as the armpit of the East Coast, and celebrating the possibilities of theater. It’s a cast of five playing at least five times as many characters, and the evening is an endless array of dialects and split-second costume changes. (At one point an actress, playing two characters, sings a duet with herself.)

David Bryan, whom you might know as a Bon Jovi band member, wrote the score, while he and DiPietro co-wrote the lyrics. Bryan’s music is a loopy homage to the ’80s (especially those power ballads!) and neither is DiPietro not above making cracks about that decade.

Evan Ruggiero is a non-stop entertainment force as Melvin/Monster, and Katie Sexton is bitchy-funny as his blind librarian girlfriend. The two have a quirky chemistry which helps considerably when the show runs out of gas in the second act. Caroline Nicolian is a whirling dervish of fun as a very corrupt and evil mayor, while Quinn Patrick Shannon and Billy Mason pull out all the stops playing a whole platoon of lunatics. And all five are blessed with powerhouse voices.

Wes Grantom’s direction is a bit unfocussed, and this kind of broad comedy needs a much sharper playing style than it has now. But it’s early in the run and, considering the talent on stage, The Toxic Avenger will more than likely find its way.



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