Review: It doesn’t get much funner than San Jose Stage’s highly-skilled ‘Avenger’

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(L to R) Joshua Marx, Courtney Hatcher, Will Springhorn, Jr., Allison F. Rich and Brandon Noel Thomas set out to save Tromaville, New Jersey in San Jose Stage’s production of “The Toxic Avenger,” playing through July 23rd. (San Jose Stage photo)

Watching San Jose Stage’s phenomenal production of “The Toxic Avenger” has all the joy of getting a root canal. That is, if getting a root canal is your favorite way to pass time and your personal pantheon of dental procedures.

Or maybe it’s like getting punched in the face for 12 rounds. And that’s if getting punched in the face for 12 rounds gives you life.

Whatever bad analogy you can think of, San Jose Stage’s latest production, featuring a tight cast of only five, is so damn good, so sublimely fun, and never lets up pressing on your funny bone.

The story follows the plight of Melvin Ferd, the Third (even that name cracks me up). He is an ideal young man who lives in the toxic wasteland known as Tromaville, New Jersey. And his desire to save the citizens from the toxic waste placed on them by the horrid citizens of Manhattan is equal parts environmental and equal parts lust.

After a few high school cartoon bullies come after the Ferdster at the command of the evil mayor (always solid Allison F. Rich), forcing her goons Sluggo and Bozo to dunk him into a barrel of toxic waste, he reappears with green skin, an eye that now lives elsewhere, and a seriously hunky chest with chiseled arms to boot. Hence the Toxic Avenger is born.

The Avenger (a wonderfully cast Will Springhorn, Jr.), might be ready for his love interest, the sweet and beautiful librarian Sarah (triple threat Courtney Hatcher), who thankfully is blind and spends all her time attempting to place books on shelves, where her efforts are met with an unceremonious thud. I say thankfully because the Avenger is ugly as f***. But he’s got that chest and those arms, which Sarah gets to touch, believing that not only her new love is hunky, but French. Oui oui.

The show is written by Joe DiPietro with music by David Bryan, the keyboardist for Bon Jovi. The duo is also responsible for the Broadway megahit “Memphis,” which saw a huge part of its development at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. In this piece, the hilarity is not simply gratuitous, but smart, with a range of musical styles, and if you pay close attention, you can almost feel that this is a love letter to musical theatre. You can certainly pick out Broadway hits and leitmotifs that are odes to shows past. It is terribly obvious that “The Phantom of the Opera” is in there, as well as a little choreography from “Les Miserables.”

Director Jonathan Rhys Williams keeps his pace frenetic, with a major assist by Vijay M. Rajan, who handled all of the very stylized projections that help set the scene. And the solid choreography of Brett and Carmichael C.J. Blankenship is wild and crazy fun, dancing to the rhythms of musical director Brian Allan Hobbs and his solid five-piece band.

The five-person cast featured three San Jose Stage stalwarts, certainly no strangers to anyone who frequents the company on a regular basis. Springhorn Jr., with his nerdirific receding hairline, sings passionately, tapping into some kick ass stuff, especially in the number “Kick Your Ass.” He also kicked some ass when jumping to the top step consistently with his passionate “Roar,” sticking all his landings except one. Dammit!

Rich and Hatcher are in a different stratosphere when it comes to the musical comedy style. Rich, who is a master at mixing sultry appeal with stage presence and hilarity, is showcased beautifully in this piece, playing both the Mayor and Martin’s nagging mother. Her tour de force in “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore” is beyond priceless.

Hatcher once again presents herself as a mega talent, tearing it up as the blind heroine. Her vocal work is delicious in numbers such as “Big French Boyfriend” and “Choose Me Oprah.”

The show is greatly enhanced by the presence of two scene stealing studs, Branden Noel Thomas and Joshua Marx. Whether it is playing the mayor’s goons Sluggo and Bozo, Sarah’s best girlfriends Shinequa and Diane, or Ma Ferd’s sassy hairdressers Lorenzo and Lamas, one of the great joys of the show is to see what Thomas and Marx will do next.

While “The Toxic Avenger” may simply seem like campy fun, it’s also joyful, cheeky and wonderfully irreverent, a great production of fun, popcorn fluff. And after the show is over, to paraphrase another famous Broadway musical, “The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be, Toxie.”

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

San Jose Stage Company presents “The Toxic Avenger”
Book by Joe DiPietro
Music by David Bryan
Lyrics by DiPietro and Bryan
The Word: An absolute blast of a show, tight harmonies by a tight cast of five, with hilarity at every turn.
Stars: 5 out of 5
Directed by Jonathan Rhys Williams
Choreography by Brett and Carmichael C.J. Blankenship
Through July 23rd
Running time: Two hours, one 10-minute intermission
San Jose Stage Company
490 S. First Street, San Jose, CA
Tickets range from $30 – $65
For tickets, call (408) 283-7142 or visit www.thestage.org

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