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A 'Toxic' interview with Anthony Lawson

Star-News - 10/20/2017

Oct. 20--In the annals of Wilmington theater, the legend of City Stage continues to loom large.

The downtown venue closed a year ago and has since reopened as The Rooftop Bar at North Front Theatre, which has hosted several comedy acts and a couple of theatrical productions over six months. But the types of musicals City Stage did -- edgy comedies, ambitious rock operas and multiple productions of "The Rocky Horror Show" -- continue to evoke that historic, cozy and often dusty space. It's hard to think of a show more suited to those environs than "The Toxic Avenger Musical," which opens at North Front Theatre on Oct. 26 under the direction of Anthony Lawson for Panache Theatrical Productions.

The rock musical -- which has a book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro ("Memphis," "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change") and music by David Bryan (keyboardist for Bon Jovi) -- is based on Lloyd Kaufman's cult 1986 B movie for Troma Entertainment. It's about a nerdy janitor (Brendan Carter) who falls into a vat of toxic chemicals and is transformed into a gooey mutant with superhuman strength. Call it a funny, twisted superhero satire with an unlikely romance and an environmental message.

I sent some "Toxic" questions to Lawson, who appeared in or directed a few dozen shows at City Stage over the years, about the musical and returning to the place he calls his theatrical home.

Of all the musicals you could've done -- and I ask this with all due respect -- why 'The Toxic Avenger Musical'?

When "Toxic Avenger" first came out, (former Wilmington actor) Zack Simcoe looked at me and said, "You'll be doing that up at City Stage in five years." I took seven, but I didn't want to prove him wrong. In all honesty it's just a very "me" musical. I love all of the offbeat, probably-shouldn't-be-a-musical kind of musicals. Things like "Heathers" and "Toxic Avenger" shouldn't work as musical theater, but they (do).

So how does it feel to be going back into the new/old space where you've spent so much time?

It feels good to be going "home" again. But then again, you can't really, can you? Shows like "Rocky Horror" and "Toxic Avenger" belong in a space like North Front Theatre. The intimacy coupled with the slightly spooky decor lend themselves to the productions. I'm thrilled to be working in the space again. The first musical I ever directed was up there, "Brooklyn." I'm aware of its limitations and excited to push the boundaries of what we can do. All but one of our shows next season will be in North Front.

I'm sure music director Amanda Hunter's band is wonderful, but if you could pick any band from rock history to play this show whose style would fit the best and why?

The easy answer would be Bon Jovi since one of its members wrote the music. I definitely get some Def Leppard and Journey vibes when listening to it. During one rehearsal I shouted, "Oh man, it's 'Open Arms!'"

How are you doing the makeup/costume for 'Toxie'? How heavy are you going into special effects?

The transformation is very quick. We are relying heavily on the costumes provided by Selina Harvey to sell the effect. I'm helping as much as I can to create the look of Toxie's face. I bought an eyeball and everything. The rest of the effects in the show -- i.e., limbs being torn off -- will be in true B-movie style.

What is the tone you're trying to strike with this show? The movie is kind of a satire of superhero films but there's a lot of other potentially serious stuff going on as well, including Toxie's romance.

The movie was always intended to have a strong environmental message. I think that is at the core of the musical as well. It's campy fun that doesn't take itself seriously while still tackling the subject of the destruction we are causing our planet.

If there is a deeper meaning to 'The Toxic Avenger,' what would you say it is?

The Earth is round. Don't be a dick, recycle.

Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or John.Staton@StarNewsOnline.com.

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(c)2017 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)

Visit the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.) at www.starnewsonline.com

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