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Theater review: Surprise! The Toxic Avenger is goofy (not gory) musical fun

From left: Matias Valero, Evan Kelly, Desmond Scott, Alexis Larson and Becky Farmer perform the opening song during rehearsal for "The Toxic Avenger" on Tuesday. The show opens tonight at The Underground. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com

"Much better than I anticipated."

After the musical "The Toxic Avenger" opened at the Underground Theater on Thursday night, several audience members expressed their surprise at how much they enjoyed the show.

Well, start spreading the word. "The Toxic Avenger" is more goofy that gross, and a show where you find yourself just sitting there smiling.

For those who love the 1984 Troma film, the big concern is that all those things that made it a camp classic — the gross depictions of blood and gore, the Polaroids, the deep fat fryer, the New Jersey National Guard tanks, and all those tan lines — will NOT make it to the stage.

For those who have studiously avoided "The Toxic Avenger" and every other Troma film, the big concern is that all the gross depictions of blood and gore, et al., WILL make it to the stage.

Yes, there are what passes for severed body parts and a bit of fake blood, and there definitely will be entrails. But the musical goes right for the laughs and skips trying to gross you out.

The musical version reduces the story to the simple tale of a boy in love with a blind girl, who is trying to expose a corrupt Tromaville politician only to be thrown into a vat of toxic goo and emerge as a mutant monster.

Evan Kelly plays Melvin Ferd, the Third (before) and Toxie (after). The Toxie mask designed and created by Dan Uebel is pretty amazing and did not interfere with understanding Kelly's vocals.

While the song "Kick Your Ass" is fun, Kelly's best numbers are the ballads, "Thank God She's Blind" and "You Tore My Heart Out," both of which are a nice blend of sweetly tender and slightly twisted.

As Sarah, the blind librarian, Alexis Larson is equal parts daft and spunk. A strong vocalist ("Choose Me, Oprah”), Larson's comic timing is even better. The best running gag is that not only the characters, but also the crew and audience, treat Sarah as if she is really blind.

On power vocal duty is Becky Farmer, who plays both Mayor Babs Belgoody ("Evil is Hot") and Ma Ferd ("All Men Are Freaks"). Farmer goes all "Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical" in the song that warrants the show's intermission simply because nobody would want to try and follow that number.

Most of the show's manic energy can be directly attributed to Desmond Scott and Matias Valero, who apparently spent every moment they are not on stage changing costumes for their next set of characters. Watching these two run around all night was both hysterical and exhausting.

Director Jody Kujawa has given Toxie back his iconic mop and added his own distinctive little touches such as a mirror ball, a tiki torch and a purple thing that is not a crayon (bonus points for the Troma theme music up top).

Two final observations: First, running this show before the college kids are back in town is a serious mistake in scheduling. Second, you can never have too much green goo on a set for this show.

If you go

What: "The Toxic Avenger "

When: 7:30 Thursday-Saturday through Aug. 18.

Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.

Tickets: $20 adults, $18 students at www.duluthplayhouse.org

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