Aria Entertainment

Review: The Toxic Avenger the Musical ★★★★ - This grungy green giant is on message loud and clear

Producer Katy Lipson (Aria Entertainment) has a sure eye – and ear – for a hit musical. Between a summer of new musical theatre at The Other Palace, including Some Lovers, Burt Bacharach’s first for years, and the imminent autumn transfer of a sell-out immersive version of tribal rock musical Hair arriving at London’s Vaults from Manchester’s Hope Mills Theatre, comes this West End transfer of a musical that had a hugely successful first outing at Southwark Playhouse.

It isn’t the first high-camp schlock horror movie to make it from screen to stage, though it may be the weirdest (and loudest). Like soulmate Little Shop of Horrors, it’s based on a movie with a musical score added here by David Bryan (yes, Bon Jovi’s keyboardist David Bryan Rashbaum!). In place of the film’s comic-book biffs and bangs – enough to employ an army of Foley artists and stunt-persons – Joe DiPietro’s adaptation of Lloyd Kaufman’s (with Joe Ritter) bracingly violent screenplay has Benji Sperring’s fast-moving, out and loud, in-yer-face direction; designer takis’ versatile three-tier set, incorporating huge vats, library, beauty salon and much more; a loud and lovely five-piece band led by musical Wunderkind Alex Beetschen – and just five extraordinary triple threats playing a cast of (almost) thousands.

In fictional New Jersey town Tromaville, the dastardly Mayor ruthlessly exploits local resources, dumps waste like there’s no tomorrow and is behind local crime syndicates. Meanwhile puny weakling Melvyn is bullied mercilessly until his tormentors crown their violence by throwing him into a vat of toxic waste, transforming him into the (admittedly hideous) superhero Toxic Avenger – green in colour and credentials – sworn to cleanse Tromaville of waste and bullies, including the Mayor; and soon, beloved of pretty, blind librarian Sarah, who ‘sees’ him not exactly for what he is, as she’s convinced ‘Toxie’ is an exotic French name.

Where the film split Melvin/Toxie between two actors, Mark Anderson curls up as Melvin and more than mans up for Toxie. Natalie Hope achieves a spectacular double as sexually predatory, vampish Mayor, her shocking pink décolletage an offensive weapon (the film has a man in suit!), with lightning changes into Melvin’s Mum in hairnet and housecoat – even actually duetting with herself! Ché Francis’ ‘Black Dude’ and Oscar Conlon-Morrey’s ‘White Dude’ morph miraculously into multiple pairs of thugs, henchmen, cops and hilariously, girlfriends. Emma Salvo just gets to be plucky Sarah, in mismatched pop socks, and constantly mislaying her white cane – she really goes for the gleefully politically incorrect, definitely ‘blind’ rather than ‘visually impaired’. All five and their hard-working swing/understudies, Sophia Lewis and Peter Bindloss, have huge, true voices to carry Bryan’s witty (and mostly audible) lyrics. An intoxicatingly tasty – and tasteless – treat.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Irina Chira

The Toxic Avenger the Musical runs until Sunday 3 December. 7.30pm (Tue-Sat; exc. 3 Oct), 3.30pm (Sat only), 3pm & 6.30pm (Sun only). £19.50-£59.50. Arts Theatre, WC2HL 7JB.

Review: The Addams Family: The Musical Comedy ★★★★ - America’s favourite dysfunctional family is right on song in a darkly delicious musical treat

The real-life drama of Jersey Boys – the legendary hit from this terrific all-Jewish creative team – is a world away from this deliciously knowing crowd pleaser. Think a cross between the high-school teenage angst of Grease and the outrageous camp of cult smash hit The Rocky Horror Show. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice go back to Charles Addams’ much-loved cartoon strip for their characters, rather than previous live incarnations, the TV series and the film. Andrew Lippa’s well-placed musical numbers are a vital part of the show’s weird and wonderful atmosphere, his richly varied music and witty lyrics working nimbly to reveal the kooky characters and move the plot along.

It's not the most labyrinthine of plots (Meet the Parents with a Gothic twist), but it's the fun on the way to a foregone happy conclusion that makes for such a joyful night out to share with packed houses of aficionados happily clapping along to the iconic theme tune even before the show starts proper. Director Matthew White, choreographer Alistair David and orchestrator Richard Beadle work seamlessly to provide fun that somehow manages to be broad and sophisticated at the same time.

What fans want is all-singing, all-dancing incarnations of their favourite dysfunctional family members and that's exactly what they get in Samantha Womack's curvaceous gently-assertive matriarch Morticia and Cameron Blakely's gallant, ardent Gomez: husband, lover and caring dad. Thrillingly-voiced Carrie Hope Fletcher makes for a real flesh-and-blood (honestly no joke intended!) Wednesday, as much a teenager in love as any high-school heroine. Grant McIntyre's loveable masochistic little bro Pugsley, Valda Aviks' scary Grandma and Les Dennis's terrific Uncle Fester, showman and master of ceremonies, complete the living family.

The spectacular coup de theatre here is that at Addams family conferences, the dead outnumber the living. A glamorous motley crew of 10 assorted ancestors, summoned from the family vault to help solve a problem like Wednesday falling for Oliver Ormso's clean-cut, all-American Lucas, range from matador to geisha, female warrior to jester. They make a daft, colourful chorus, singing, dancing or just eavesdropping from the high windows of designer Diego Pitarch's crazy Gothic realisation of the Addams' ancestral pile. And presiding over it all is Dickon Gough's monumental manservant Lurch, a benevolent golem.

Into this singular set-up stumble Wednesday's dinner guests: Lucas with his parents Mal and Alice, perfectly channelling Rocky's Brad and Janet in middle age, he obstinately square-jawed, she spouting delectably trite rhymes (“When I’m depressed, or feeling blessed, a poem will get it off my chest”) – and of course ripe for unbuttoning. The Addams Family – dead or alive – constitute a life-affirming treat.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Matt Martin 

The Addams Family tours until Saturday 4 November, stopping at Canterbury (23-27 May), Southend (30 May-3 Jun), Birmingham (6-10 Jun), Bath (13-17 Jun), Cornwall (20-24 Jun), Nottingham (27 Jun-1 Jul), Bradford (4-8 Jul), Southampton (18-29 Jul), Cardiff (1-12 Aug), Dublin (15-26 Aug), Salford (29 Aug-9 Sep), Sheffield (12-16 Sep), Bristol (19-23 Sep), Woking (26-30 Sep), Belfast (3-7 Oct), Glasgow (10-14 Oct), Wolverhampton (17-21 Oct), Milton Keynes (24-28 Oct) and Dartford (31 Oct-4 Nov).

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