Friday, April 10, 2009

Review: The Toxic Avenger

Demond Green, Matthew Saldivar, Nick Cordero,
Sara Chase and Nancy Opel. Carol Rosegg photos.

It’s a Lean, Green Laughter Machine
By Lauren Yarger
So he’s green, smells, oozes slime and rips people’s limbs off. What’s not to love?

He’s The Toxic Avenger (Nick Cordero), New Jersey’s own superhero in the new off-Broadway musical treatment of the cult horror films of the same name playing at New World Stages. The show features a rocking score by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan, a really funny book from Joe DiPietro (both collaborated on the lyrics) and a knock-’em-dead (well, sometimes, literally) performance by Nancy Opel in multiples roles culminating in a sharply staged duet with herself.

The superhero is created when geek Melvin Ferd the Third, is dropped into a vat of toxic waste by some school bullies and left for dead. Instead, he emerges as a large, slime-covered green mutant with super powers (hair and wig design by Mark Adam Rampmeyer; costumes by David C. Woolard). When not pursuing a relationship with blind librarian Sarah (Sara Chase), he’s ridding Tromaville, NJ of polluters and corrupt politicians, often one gory limb at a time (prosthetics and special effects by John Dods).

Sarah doesn’t realize Melvin is “Toxie,” as she calls her new beau. She wonders why he won’t kiss her or let her touch his face. The Avenger fears rejection if Sarah were to discover the truth, because as she says, “Violence is always wrong, even if it is entertaining…”

Director John Rando expertly guides the cast through the tongue-in-cheek humor and some tight staging that makes the already sarcastic and goofy humor even more fun. Opel’s performance as Melvin’s mother, a nun and Tromaville Mayor Babs Belgoody is worth the ticket price alone. Also playing multiple roles are Matthew Saldivar and Demond Green, known only as “White Dude” and “Black Dude” who play everything from bullies and cops to Sarah’s BFFs and back up singers à la the Supremes in this laugh-a-minute fest.

The blind librarian jokes never stop -- and never stop being funny-- because Chase plays the gags with such gusto. Whether Sarah’s crashing into things, failing miserably as a librarian or sweetening a cup of tea with Drano, she does it full throttle and you can’t help but laugh. Even her clashing-colored clothes and the upside-down wallpaper in her apartment, which swings open on the other side of the toxic vats comprising scenic designer’s Beowulf Boritt’s backdrop, are amusing (lighting and sound design by Kenneth Posner and Kurt Eric Fischer).

Located above the action upstage right, the band rocks out the house as the stars lend their strong voices to songs titled, among other things, “Get the Geek,” “Thank God She’s Blind,” “Evil is Hot” and “You Tore My Heart Out.” Conducted by Doug Katsaros on the keyboards, the band also can be seen laughing at most of the bits taking place below, usually proof of a funny show.

The Toxic Avenger plays at New World Stages, 340 West 50th St, NY (between 8th and 9th avenues). Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 or by visiting

Christians might also like to know:

Before you rush out to see this show based on my glowing review, let me advise you that to appreciate this show, you have to set aside the fact that it contains a lot of crude humor and potentially offensive material. It’s definitely not something to which I would bring young children. Here is a list of what’s in the show so you can make an informed decision about whether or not this show is for you:
• Language
• Drug use depicted
• Attempted rape depicted
• Mutilation and decapitation depicted—it’s gross, but could be worse
• Woman’s underwear revealed
• Cross Dressing
• Suggestive Dancing
• Sexually suggestive lyrics
• Sex Outside of marriage
• Praying to Oprah

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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