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Toxic Avenger Director Dishes on His B-Movie Musical Adaptation

Toxic Avenger Director Dishes on His B-Movie Musical Adaptation” width=”560″/>

Tony-winning director John Rando discusses his current stage production of Lloyd Kaufman’s 1984 B-Movie Cult Classic, The Toxic Avenger, explains Toxie’s underdog roots and hints at his musical’s “green” message.

Q: What is the appeal of The Toxic Avenger that it was adapted as a stage musical three times?

A: Well for me, I think it’s the wonderful crazy notion of a Toxic Superhero. There is so much potential locked into the original story for a hilariously funny and also weird, unexpected and dark show, with a message of saving planet earth. I mean, Toxie is a completely hideous and horrible guy to look at, disfigured with an eyeball below his cheek and pustules oozing green matter. Yet this freakish mutant is using his sheer brute strength to single-handedly rid his town of pollution, and at the same time win the heart of a very hot and sexy blonde librarian. This strange mixture of superhuman strength and grotesqueness is indeed the stuff of a musical, albeit a hilarious and outrageous musical.

Q: Plus, it’s an underdog story.

A: The loser nerd turned monster saves the day and becomes governor of New Jersey? What more can you ask for? I like to think there is very little funny about toxic waste, especially when it is being poured willy-nilly into rivers, marshes and dumps that are close to suburban homes. But it still makes for a very entertaining evening. Toxie is an underdog and New Jersey is an underdog state and what red-blooded American theater-goer doesn’t like to root for the underdog? And green slime looks cool under the right kind of lighting.

Q: The charm of the film is its B-movie campiness. How does the play stick to its low-budget roots?

A: Firstly, the writers embraced the thrill and humor of the low budget style when they set out to adapt it. The musical is written for five actors. Yet there are over twenty characters in the musical, so the actors have to play many parts. At one point in the show there is a chase sequence most of the characters in the show make an appearance through quick changes. David Bryan (of Bon Jovi fame) also captured a wonderful raw rock ‘n roll sound to the music, which enhances the gritty style to the show.

Q: What were the challenges posed by the special effects used in the production?

A: Some of the most difficult special effects in the show are the quick changes, especially for Nancy Opel, who plays both the evil toxic waste loving Mayor Babs Belgoody and Melvin’s mom. At one point in the show Nancy sings a duet with herself as both the Mayor and Ma. Every aspect of the scene from stage design to wigs to costumes had to be truly thought out within an inch of its life. Then there is of course sending a 6′ 4″ actor down a barrel and having it appear that he is displacing gallons of green slime and then have him return from that same barrel fully transformed into a grotesque shadow of his former self — and to have it happen in under 45 seconds… I worked closely with designer John Dods, who loved inventing strange body fluids, parts and innards. In the song “Kick Your Ass,” Toxie rips off arms, legs, heads and guts of the two goons who threw him into the barrel. This was extremely difficult to achieve; but John’s work was fantastic.

Q: How is The Toxic Avenger stage production different from the movie?

A: I never saw the movie back when it was released. I only watched it once, seven months after I started working on the musical. Joe DiPietro had done a brilliant adaptation in that he took the movie’s few principle characters and then essentially wrote a completely new version. In fact the only thing left from the movie is the Drano instead of sugar joke. That said, the movie’s creator, Lloyd Kaufman, is the musical’s biggest fan. He was very supportive of our work from the beginning and also left us alone to do what we do best. So we have captured the original spirit and at the same time made a whole new Toxic Avenger for our time.

Q: Has the story been modernized for contemporary audiences?

A: Well, I guess you could say our musical is very “Green,” as it does have a point of view about stopping global warming.

Q: What projects do you have coming up next?

A: I am really excited about the satire on Hollywood altruism that I am directing at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles titled Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas. It opens September 17.

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