“The Toxic Avenger” brings something new to the Lees-McRae stage as the first Theatre Arts production of the season

In a season of theatrical shows specifically selected to challenge student actors and expand their skills, “The Toxic Avenger” opens with a bang. This campy rom-com-meets-revenge-story (with a bit of toxic waste mixed in), tells the story of Melvin Ferd the Third, an aspiring environmentalist who falls into a vat of toxic waste while trying to prevent an evil mayor from polluting New Jersey. From the vat of waste Melvin emerges mutilated, but with superhuman strength, and sets off to get his revenge and save the state from toxic pollution.

When it opens in Hayes Auditorium on Wednesday, Sept. 27, “The Toxic Avenger” will bring something fresh to the Lees-McRae stage, despite the toxic waste at its narrative center. The show will introduce both students and audience members to unique theatrical concepts, and will stretch the boundaries of what a theatrical show can be. The comedic show is raunchy and features adult themes, while the score is more reminiscent of the rock songs performed by the show’s songwriter David Bryan of Bon Jovi than of a typical musical theatre production.

“This show is a bit vulgar; it’s got some avant-garde themes. Compared to ‘James and the Giant Peach,’ which we did last semester, it’s got a lot more dirt and grit to it. When you’re used to doing those happy-go-lucky musicals it’s a bit of a 180-degree turn to try and do something that’s dark, funny, and a cult-classic comedy,” junior Theatre Arts major Turner Henline, who plays the titular role said. “This has been a new style of character for me. It’s a whole different style of singing, along with the musical itself being an entirely different style of musical than most musicals I am used to working on. It has been a big learning experience.”

The show’s unique musical style is not the only thing pushing students to expand their skills. Henline said that comedy acting can often be a challenge to nail on stage and can even be more vulnerable than a heavy emotional performance. The small cast of “The Toxic Avenger” means that each performer must be fully committed to their part to deliver a show that resonates as funny with the audience, and Henline said that this production process has emphasized the importance of consistency in his stage work.

These considerations have also been essential for senior Theatre Arts major Allison Dion, who plays two roles in the show: Melvin’s mother, and the primary antagonist, the mayor. With such a small cast, many of the student actors will be playing multiple roles and must develop each character to be distinct from one another. Dion switches between her characters frequently throughout the show, and even performs a musical number where the two characters sing to each other, which will require her to quickly switch back and forth on stage.

“It has been very important to make sure that both of the characters have a distinct personality in a way that makes it very clear to the audience who is who whether or not I have the costume on or it’s just a voice they hear from backstage,” Dion said. “This role has been really interesting for me because the vocal range goes from very low to very high, and really stretches my vocal ability. It’s very belt-y, very loud, a little rock, and those are places that I haven’t explored too much, so it has been such a treat to work with our voice teacher and get to know those different parts of my voice.”

Henline and Dion agree that “The Toxic Avenger” is a large undertaking for everyone involved on the cast and crew, and that time management, accountability, and maintaining a disciplined rehearsal schedule are instrumental in bringing the show together. Part of this challenge comes from the relatively few professional productions of the show, which requires the actors to put in a lot of character development work.

“I’m not the one originating this role, but I’m kind of the one originating this version of the character. There’s a movie, but there’s not much for me to base off,” Henline said. “It’s been enjoyable and gratifying each night, because every time I feel like I get more on top of it and gain a better understanding.”

In addition to the rewarding ways in which “The Toxic Avenger” is stretching their own skills, Henline and Dion are looking forward to the ways it will challenge the audience as well. For audience members who are familiar with Rogers and Hammerstein or Andrew Lloyd Webber, this show will be a departure from what they are used to regarding themes, musical style, dialogue, and more. Nevertheless, Henline said this is still a production theatre lovers will enjoy, and he hopes “The Toxic Avenger” will open a whole new world of theatre for those who attend.

“Simply put, this show is just a lot of fun,” Dion said. “People love to see things they have never seen before; something that’s a little crazy, something that’s a little raunchy, something that maybe pushes the boundaries in some way, and I think this is a show that really lets loose and pokes fun at a lot of things. We poke fun at ourselves, we poke fun at musicals, we poke fun at the audience, and I think it’s really going to be a treat for everybody to come out and see.”

Purchase tickets to all performances of “The Toxic Avenger”

By Maya JarrellSeptember 13, 2023
AcademicsCommunityCampus Life