“The Toxic Avenger” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ November 2, 2015


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

As the raged and wrinkled curtain parts to begin Phoenix Theatre’s “The Toxic Avenger,” a massive monstrosity of junk appears as the show’s unit set.  It’s the perfect look for the Tromaville, New Jersey setting of this madcap and riotous comedy that is filled with a succession of superlative jokes, catchy but innocuous songs, plus an inane story about a slovenly town where Manhattan deposits its toxic waste.  The odious trash impacts everyone living there including a competitive money-driven mayor who leads the wasted zombie citizens who have been impacted by this rancid locale.  The muck turned the title character into an ugly but hulky superhero.

Silly to be sure but “The Toxic Avenger” evolves into hysterical tomfoolery when the shenanigans are performed with impeccable comic style by five talented farceurs.  The result is an entertaining two-hour laugh fest.  As you leave, you realize there’s nothing of substance in “The Toxic Avenger” but boy have you been rapturously entertained.

Writers Joe DiPietro’s witty book and lyrics plus David Bryan’s catchy tunes structure an engaging entertainment that is comically finessed by Phoenix Theatre’s wacky production.  Michael Barnard’s nimble direction and Robert Kolby Harper’s cute dances delight but the polish that makes this production sparkle is the funny cast.

Heading things is the wonderfully amusing Johanna Carlisle who doubles as the wacko Mayor and a head strong Mother.  Her zany comic timing, her winning inflections reciting every joke, and her clever but telling glances, looks, and wonderment telescope every funny moment she is given by the authors.  Trisha Hart Ditsworth contributes richly comical moments as Sarah, a gullible, blind librarian who is charmed by muscle-bound Caleb Reese’s Toxie, the musical’s lead role.  Rounding out the cast are Lucas Coatney as a White Dude and Nathaniel Tenenbaum as an Ethnic Dude.  This pair essay a myriad of hysterical supporting roles sometimes playing hunky men, often playing effete transvestites but always executing every comic moment with clever bits of wild business.  How director Barnard gathered such a superlative cast amazes as the malarkey unfolds in “The Toxic Avenger.”

Also, Phoenix Theatre deserves a plug for persisting through an arduous waiting period to secure the first regional theater production rights to stage this off-Broadway hit.  The local production rivals the 2009 original off-Broadway staging I saw.

“The Toxic Avenger” is guaranteed to delight audiences.  It continues through November 22.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A