Three musicals, two “Idols”: Broadway is alive and well By Kevin M. Thomas

toxic

The Toxic Avenger Musical: Desmond Green, Diana DeGarmo & Jonathan Root

With a flurry of new Broadway shows opening up this winter, it seemed like a good idea to catch up with some of the shows that have been playing for awhile, especially since some have new actors.

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Alice Ripley in "Next to Normal"

“Next to Normal” a Tony winner for actress Alice Ripley as well as being nominated for two of her co-stars and as Best Musical still has most of the cast in tact. Supporting actor Aaron Tveit was off doing some other project, but has since returned to his role as the son Gabe.

Ripley truly is the core of the show – able to wear every emotion, bringing pathos and tragedy to a role that seems more from a Tennessee Williams classic.

The vulnerability of her character trying to deal with a family tragedy serves as the perfect foundation for the other actors to work against. Without her strength as an actress, the high emotional charge from her costars would falter, keeping the characters together as a family and the actors together as a theatre troupe.

While no match for Ripley, J. Robert Spencer is memorable as her long suffering husband who is given more of an opportunity to shine in the second act. But once again, his emotions are dependent on Ripley being able to bring everything she’s got. Tveit’s understudy Tim Young was in fine voice and quite sympathetic as their son and Jennifer Damiano as daughter Natalie proves why she was Tony nominated as the innocent daughter who seems to be lost in her brother’s shadow. Going from freak to prodigy to heroine, Damiano stands toe-to-toe with the rest of them, finding her own voice.

The Tony winning score is quite melodic but is best kept as a complete piece and not to be chopped up into a songbook of hit singles.

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages

Another show playing on Broadway that has a great score is “Rock of Ages” and it’s easy to tell why as it patches together a bunch of 1980s hair band songs. Whether it’s “Anyway You Want It,” “Don’t Stop Believin’” or “The Final Countdown,” every rock song from the 1980s is here. Yes, it’s like “Mamma Mia” and the part of Abba songs is being played by Journey, but who cares!

The show isn’t trying to win the Pulitzer, it’s just trying to entertain. And that it does.
From the moment you hit the theatre and are surrounded by actual rock concert posters, club and bar logos and the famous picture of the billboard of busty Angelene, you feel you are in Hollywood in the 1980s. And the show comes complete with a pseduo-lighter for the audience to turn on and wave in the air during the shows big ballads.

The show was nominated for a Tony for Best Musical last year. And it’s so fun, you can see why. And American idol finalist Constantine Maroulis was also Tony nominated. Of course he can sing – you don’t get the fourth place on that show if you couldn’t. But he’s actually a very talented actor. He’s got great comic timing and is quite sweet as our show’s leading man – a shy bar back who has trouble writing songs until he meets his muse, Sherrie, a country bumpkin who comes to LA to become an actress.

Perhaps playing 1980s muses is becoming a thing for her as Kerry Butler, who was sensational in last year’s “Xanadu,” just took over the role of Sherrie and she instantly makes it her own. Butler’s big voice gets her the attention she deserves as it did in “Xanadu” and “Hairspray” and brings a lot of fresh energy to the production.

Or maybe to be a successful a show you just need Joe DiPietro and David Bryan to write the songs and book.  They did it with great success in “Memphis” but they also have a gem on their hands with the off-Broadway “The Toxic Avenger,” based upon a really crappy 1980s horror film.

Desmond Green & Nancy Opel in "The Toxic Avenger Musical"

Desmond Green & Nancy Opel in "The Toxic Avenger Musical"

Crappy movies though make the best spoofs as “Toxic” is an uproarious laugh riot, riddled with double entendres (or some just blatant), catchy songs and a serves as a  postcard to the ugly side of New Jersey. While “The Toxic Avenger” is fighting off crime and corruption, the show fuels the fire of the feud between New York and New Jersey. And since this is the New York stage, you know what city comes up smelling like a rose and which is, well, toxic.

All that aside, “Toxic” has a perfect cast, including the recent addition of another American Idol finalist, Diana DeGarmo, who is innocent and slutty all at once. And the little lady has a great big voice.

And Nick Cordero is truly lovable as the Avenger. But it’s the three stooges of Desmond Green, Jonathan Root and especially Nancy Opel as ALL of the other characters that will make you laugh so hard in the isles that you will be rolling right down to the end of the stage. These three has tons of costume changes and no time to do it. In one scene in particular in which Opel plays the Avenger’s mother and the mayor and is running off and on stage in seconds and sometimes changing right on stage (you’ll know what I mean when you see) it is theatre at its truly best.

As songwriters, DiPietro and Bryan are determined to be a team to reckon with. While “Memphis” is filled with sincere and big band songs, “Toxic” has their B sides of songs like “Choose Me, Oprah” and “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore” – which is a perfectly fun song to sing while exiting the theatre.

“Toxic” really needs to stay around for a long time. It needs to be seen over and over again. Make it your holiday gift to your friends. Make it your own birthday party. Take a bridal party there. Just get yourself to the ugly part of New Jersey, right there at New York’s New World Stages.
To learn more about these shows and get tickets, go to:

www.nexttonormal.com
www.rockofagesmusical.com
www.thetoxicavengermusical.com