I have always loved B-movies – low budget movies that rarely make it in the theaters but do gang busters at the video store. Typically, they feature former television stars like Richard Grieco (21 Jump Street), Mark Dacascos (The Crow: Stairway to Heaven), or Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman).
But sometimes the B-movies feature no known actors, just a bizarre plot line that entices rental at the video store. One such movie that came out in the 1980’s is The Toxic Avenger from director/producer Lloyd Kaufman.
Kaufman’s Troma Entertainment is legendary for producing Roger Corman-like B-movies, and The Toxic Avenger is his crown jewel.
The story of the 1984 superhero/comedy/horror film follows nerd extraordinaire Melvin Ferd who gets dumped in a vat of toxic waste by the town bullies. Rather than kill poor Melvin, the toxic waste transforms him into a musclebound mutant of superhuman strength, dead set on taking on the corruption in the city of Tromaville. Similar to the comic book hero The Thing, the Toxic Avenger earns the love of a blind girl whose affections are inspired by Toxie’s good heart rather than his hideous deformed face.
I loved the film for all it’s campy goodness and converted many other fans over the years. Over the years it has spawned a series of film sequel, an animated cartoon, and even a Marvel comic book series.
In 2008, the American public was treated to the premier of a stage musical based on Kaufman’s film. It was created by Tony-winners Joe Dipietro and David Bryan. David, of course, is also famous as the keyboardist in the hugely popular rock band Bon Jovi.
I have a special place in my heart for David Bryan. After the success of my first novel My Fractured Life, there were plans to adapt it into a feature film. David and I met several times to discuss having him score the film. He loved the book and was eager to do the music for the film. Unfortunately financing never materialized and the movie was shelved. But it’s a good “what if” memory for me. Hey, who knows? Lots of projects once abandoned come to fruition years later – for instance The Basketball Diaries and Avatar. You can never rule out that a feature film will happen in the future.
Anyway, I was eager to hear the David and Joe’s musical version of The Toxic Avenger and absolutely fell in love with it. Certain changes were made in the storyline to translate to stage better, but at heart it’s the same story. And, the music is a perfect match of comedy and innovation.
I host a radio show on WHRU-LP named It’s Showtime with Rikki Lee where I profile a different stage, film, or television musical each week. On November 13 2017 I had the great joy of offering The Toxic Avenger Musical to my listeners. It is one of my favorite episodes of the radio show.
If you have a few minutes to spare, you might want to check out my radio program’s episode about The Toxic Avenger Musical. You can hear the podcast at:
The rock musical was first produced at the George Street Theater in New Jersey under the direction of Tony-winner John Rado. It has since grown in legend, with productions all over the world including Australia and in London’s West End. Given the success of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, I could certainly see a Broadway production of The Toxic Avenger Musical in the future. I certainly hope so.
Peace, Love, Trust