Note: This is not a news story, but opinion by the writer.
Have you ever heard of the musical stage play, “The Toxic Avenger”? Me neither. But it’s playing in Kona at the Aloha Theater. I have more on the play and its history, but let me bottom line this now: “The Toxic Avenger” is a “must see.” It is well written and tight, has great rock and roll music with terrific lyrics, a good plot…and fabulous actors. It has a fast-paced story and the actors bring it to life with energy and wonderful singing and acting. It’s at the Aloha Theater in Kainaliu, 8 miles south of Kailua Village, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2:30, but only through Saturday October 20.
I was not eager to see The Toxic Avenger. To me it sounded like a play spun off from a comic book, maybe with a sci fi bent, and that didn’t grab me. But I’m eager to support community theater, and Producer Ken Ross told me it was one of the best plays he’d seen in New York—so my husband and I went.
(By the way, it is a play spun off from a comic book, which was preceded by a 1985 movie, “The Toxic Avenger,” which was a forgettable Lloyd Kaufman film which some have called it the worst movie they’d ever seen. If you’re familiar with all that, forget it…you will have a wonderful experience with the play.)
The play had a run off Broadway in New York, and has been licensed to only a very few professional theaters, two in Canada, one in South Korea, one in Texas, one in New Jersey. And now, the community, non-professional performing company, the Aloha Performing Arts Company, is presenting “The Toxic Avenger.” One of the things that intrigued me was hearing from APAC Artistic Director Jerry Tracy that this is The Toxic Avenger’s last stop before returning to the very big stage on Broadway in New York.
The book and lyrics are by Joe DiPietro. His current Broadway hit Memphis won the Tony Award for Best Musical and two additional Tony Awards (Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score (Music and Lyrics) written for the Theatre (with David Bryan). And he also has a Gershwin play on Broadway now, with director Kathleen Marshall—“Nice Work if You Can Get It.” DiPietro’s creative partner for The Toxic Avenger is David Bryan, who’s created the catchy rock-n-roll music and lyrics. Bryan is well-qualified: he’s the keyboard player and a founding member of Bon Jovi—and in fact he’s on tour with them now.
“The Toxic Avenger “was a delight. The story: Melvin Ferd III (Johnny Gomez) lives in Tromaville, New Jersey, which has become the site for New York to dump its nuclear waste, encouraged by its corrupt mayor, played by Sue Boyum. Melvin vows to clean up Tromaville, inspired by his love for the blind librarian, Sarah (Sara Hagan). But alas, Mayor’s goons dump Melvin into a vat of toxic waste. He emerges as “The Toxic Avenger” (Miguel Montez), prepared to lay waste to the mess that Tromaville has become. The plot doesn’t sound engaging, but the play is so well written, so witty, and so tight—and the characters so clearly written—the play just works. And the musical score is terrific.
The big question with any community theater troupe is, “Can they pull it off”? The answer with Aloha Performing Arts is a resounding “yes.” As usual, Director Jerry Tracy has done a masterful job. And the actors are just supremely talented.
When I looked at the program at the theater, I saw something that often doesn’t work for me—characters playing multiple roles. Sometimes I can’t tell which character they’re playing. Well, White Dude (Sam Valenti) and Black Dude (Binti Bailey) are half the fun of the play. They are punks, goons, a scientist, a doctor, Sara’s girlfriends and backup singers, and more. They are so clearly defined by their costumes, wigs, and mannerisms that it’s easy to tell who they’re supposed to be—and waiting to see what they’ll be next is part of the joy. They have wonderful voices and they play each role as it should be, defining each character delightfully.
Johnny Gomez is perfect as Melvin, pre-toxic waste vat, and quite a surprise when he appears later in the show as a country singer narrating part of what’s going on…and he has a great voice. And Miguel Montez, who turns into a big green monster—to hear his sweet voice coming out of that monster man—it’s a surprise, and a delight.
Sue Boyum is a tour de force. Her first appearance is as a nun…but not her last. She also plays Melvin’s mother, and she plays the town’s corrupt Mayor. As it turns out, Melvin’s mother and the Mayor have a history…which becomes a terrific and well-done part of the play…that I can’t tell you about because it might spoil that part of the fun.
I loved “The Toxic Avenger,” and see completely why it’s going to Broadway. The press team of O & M (formerly Ogilvy & Mather) in New York City couldn’t tell me when, as they’re still in the planning and negotiating stages, but it’s definitely going. What a rare opportunity for a Kona audience to see a play whose next stop is the Great White Way. The play’s Director and APAC Artistic Director Jerry Tracy said it’s almost unheard of for a play to go to a community theater and then to Broadway—and even more amazing to have a Broadway-bound play in little Kona. And to see it here, on stage at the Aloha Theater, with actors who could easily take it to Broadway themselves with their talent, their singing, and their acting.
“The Toxic Avenger” only runs through Saturday, October 20. See it at The Aloha Theater in Kainaliu, only 8 miles south of Kailua-Kona in a small, charming, delightfully historic town, just in case you’re a visitor. The best thing is to get tickets online and select your actual seats, at www.alohatheater.com, or call 808-322-9924, or you can try for tickets at the door. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, and this Sunday at 2:30.
The only caution? The themes are a bit adult—I would not recommend it for young children.