A promotional image for Minneapolis Musical Theatre’s production of The Toxic Avenger.
There is a saying that there’s an audience somewhere for everything. To support this, you need look no further than the growth of the Internet, which unites people with the most obscure hobbies and allows you to find the most esoteric or unlikely veins of humor. If you’re lucky, some of these might eventually come close to you in person, like Minneapolis Musical Theatre’s production of The Toxic Avenger.
If you’re not familiar with the title, it belongs to an 1984 superhero B movie whose protagonist goes from 98-pound weakling to superhero in a bizarre sequence of events involving a tutu, a sheep, and a barrel of toxic waste. Superhuman strength comes with a tragic downside – our titular hero is horribly mutated and misshapen – which doesn’t stop pursuing love with a blind woman that our (male) hero saves. So far, so good (or ridiculous); the movie became a hit at midnight showings and on the home video market, leading to its 2008 reincarnation as a musical by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan.
You’d probably never see a show like this at a big house like the Guthrie, but Minneapolis Musical Theatre has cut its teeth on finding and staging this sort of third-tier musical. These productions have always been at their best when the material is an uproarious, ridiculous comedy; The Toxic Avenger is a pretty fun ride.
Given that the source material is just under 80 minutes long, any sort of synopsis will give away much of the humor. The hero/monster protagonist is played by Tristen Sima, who is gifted with hilarious songs like “Thank God She’s Blind”, “Everybody Dies”, and “You Tore My Heart Out”. Some of these songs were audibly taxing on the voice, but Sima plays it as a character trait. The main antagonists, our Toxic Avenger’s overbearing mother and the villainous mayor, are both played by Kim Kivens, who delivers some delicious vitriol that will make you agree that “Evil is Hot”. The Toxic Avenger’s love interest, a deliberate wisp of characterization, is played by Rachel Schmidt, whose “Choose Me, Oprah” is as memorable as the song itself.
“Move out of the way, J.K. Rowling / Get out of my way, John Grisham / Go screw yourself, whoever wrote 50 Shades of Grey.” – Lyrics for “Choose Me, Oprah”
For a show with only five actors, there’s a lot of movement going on. The main place where this seems thin in the duet “Evil is Hot”, which requires Kivens to play two characters simultaneously – while very fun, I wanted to see how it might have been with two different actors. (It was unclear to me whether this was a creative decision by director Ryan McGuire Grimes or a budgetary one.) The choreography by Emily Madigan is lively and flowing, and music director-pianist Anna Murphy propels the show forward with élan and aplomb.
The Toxic Avenger plays through February 25 at the Phoenix Theatre in Minneapolis, MN.