The Avenger Advantage
Second Generation delivers a 5 star show at Shea's Smith Theatre
By ANTHONY CHASE
Once again, energetic and ambitious Second Generation Theatre has lavished talent on a project to provide an entirely polished and blissfully entertaining theatrical event. Every element of The Toxic Avenger at Shea's Smith Theatre is sublime. This is a five star production.
Based on the 1984 film, this musical by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan tells the tale of Melvin Ferd the Third, a nerdy guy who seeks to save New Jersey from its villainous and environmentally irresponsible mayor and to win the heart of the beautiful blind librarian in the fictional town of Tromaville. When the mayor’s thugs toss Melvin into toxic sludge, he emerges as the mutant toxic avenger and sets out to settle some scores.
The engaging script is total silliness. The songs and lyrics are delightful and clever, ranging across musical styles from Tin Pan Alley, to tango, to country.
Steve Copps is perfect as Melvin / Toxic Avenger, bringing a strong physicality, a dry sense of humor, and powerful singing voice to deliver an authoritative performance. Indeed, I have never seen him better, as you can’t do better than perfect.
Copps is delightfully paired with Bethany Burrows who plays Sarah the Blind Librarian. Burrows has emerged, in recent years, as one of Buffalo’s most talented and versatile actresses. Her appearances as Little Sally in Urinetown, as Mermaid in Big Fish, and as Maggie in After the Fall, position her as a go-to leading lady. Her expert clowning in this role provides divine hilarity. Never has blind shtick been so irreverently funny.
As if these two sensational actors did not provide riches enough, enter the amazing Jenn Stafford in the contrasting roles of evil Mayor Babs Belgoody and Melvin’s cantankerous mother, Ma Ferd. In a truly astonishing performance, Stafford manages to channel, Veronica Lake, Rita Hayworth, Mae West, Jessica Rabbit, Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Thelma Ritter – simultaneously. As Mayor Belgoody she is pure femme fatale. As Ma Ferd, she is every cliché of the long-suffering working class New Jersey mother. Her ability to flip back and forth between the two roles is outrageously unforgettable fun, and her magnificent singing voice launches this performance gloriously into the stratosphere. She is incredible.
Raphael A. Santos and Dylan Zalikowski have both returned to Buffalo after pursuing careers in New York and they have instantly upped the ante for character acting and deranged clowning in this city. Ranging across numerous characters, young and old, male and female, Santos as Black Dude and Zalikowski as White Dude are startlingly, marvelously, amazingly fun. To give a complete litany of their surprise characterizations would be to spoil the impact, but I can't resist mentioning a few of their deftly comical portrayals.
Santos gives his all to a brilliant but morally weak scientist, a town bully, and to a variety of clearly defined women with large personalities – among other characters. Zalikowski plays an impassioned folk singer, a town bully, and a foolish array of sidesplitting women – among other characters. They are fantastic.
Under the direction of Doug Weyand, who has also devised the choreography, this brilliant production is equal in quality to any beautifully staged off-Broadway show. The storytelling is clear. The action moves swiftly through space with impressive invention, on a marvelous set designed by Chris Cavanagh, who has also done fine lights and sound. Indeed, the show makes outstanding use of the Smith Theatre space.
Excellent music direction by Allan Paglia provides a full sound using five musicians to complement the voices of the first-rate cast.
Costumes by Lindsay Salamone are whimsical. The toxic avenger costume and mask by Salamone and Jacob Albarella are fantastically inspired! And special praise goes to Mary McMahon, whose wig work is exceptional.
It was total joy to laugh so hard and to sit back and indulge in such a profusion of pure unmitigated talent. The Toxic Avenger continues at Shea's Smith Theatre, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 & 8 p.m.; and Sundays 2 p.m. thought November 10, 2019. For tickets call Second Generation at 716-508-7489; Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000; or visit the Second Generation web site at https://secondgenerationtheatre.com/tickets/ .