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The Toxic Avenger at Pittsburgh CLO

A musical adaptation of the cult film is goofy fun

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You’ve got two choices with the Pittsburgh CLO production of The Toxic Avenger: Sit in your chair rolling your eyes at the non-stop silliness — or climb aboard for an evening of goofy fun, and don’t worry whether culture has died.

This 2008 Off-Broadway show is a nutty musical inspired by the 1985 cult-favorite film about a young man in New Jersey, Melvin, who loses his nerdiness when he falls into a vat of industrial waste and emerges as a deformed superhero ready to rid his town of crime.

Book-writer Joe DiPietro uses just the basic plot from the movie, so fans should not expect a faithful adaptation. This Toxic is really about two things — milking every last joke out of New Jersey’s reputation as the armpit of the East Coast, and celebrating the possibilities of theater. It’s a cast of five playing at least five times as many characters, and the evening is an endless array of dialects and split-second costume changes. (At one point an actress, playing two characters, sings a duet with herself.)

David Bryan, whom you might know as a Bon Jovi band member, wrote the score, while he and DiPietro co-wrote the lyrics. Bryan’s music is a loopy homage to the ’80s (especially those power ballads!) and neither is DiPietro not above making cracks about that decade.

Evan Ruggiero is a non-stop entertainment force as Melvin/Monster, and Katie Sexton is bitchy-funny as his blind librarian girlfriend. The two have a quirky chemistry which helps considerably when the show runs out of gas in the second act. Caroline Nicolian is a whirling dervish of fun as a very corrupt and evil mayor, while Quinn Patrick Shannon and Billy Mason pull out all the stops playing a whole platoon of lunatics. And all five are blessed with powerhouse voices.

Wes Grantom’s direction is a bit unfocussed, and this kind of broad comedy needs a much sharper playing style than it has now. But it’s early in the run and, considering the talent on stage, The Toxic Avenger will more than likely find its way.

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