Director Anthony Lawson may first appear to be suffering in the set-building, light-focusing, prop-making madness at Wilmington's North Front Theatre...there's just a few dozen hours before opening his latest endeavor, The Toxic Avenger. But it's clear that he's doing exactly what he loves best-bringing a bizarre musical, severed limbs and all, to life on the stage.
Listen to Anthony talk about the show above (plus hear Ty Myatt sing at the end) and read our extended conversation below.
The Toxic Avenger is a big musical with just 5 characters: Brendan Carter, Kire' Stenson, Katie Villecco, Ty Myatt, and Rashad Burns. A 4-piece band accompanies the musical numbers.
Gina: Lots going on in this theater right now.
Anthony: There is a lot going on in the theater. Sets are being built. Lights are being focused. Attention is being diverted.
Gina: It looks like it looks like the set is a big deal.
Anthony: The set is kind of a big deal. There's some a lot of moving parts. I mean the whole show is a bunch of moving parts with five actors taking on all of the roles. You know the set kind of takes on the role of the sixth character and it has to it has to do a lot to keep up with the people on stage.
Gina: And so tell me about the show, how many characters are there being played by these five actors?
Anthony: So there's Toxic Avenger, there's Sarah, those are the only two who only play one character. The mom, the mayor, and the nun are played by one more and then two guys play everyone else and they probably have about close to 20 characters between both of them...or each.
Gina: What got you interested in this musical? How did you hear about it? What do you love about it?
Anthony: Well I've always been a Troma fan. I love the movies you know and this is close to a Z movie. I love really bad movies, horror movies with the fun cheap effects, and I try to emulate that with this production. When I found out they were turning it into a musical, and unlike with other shows, like Heathers, where I was like that's just a terrible idea, I was like YES, that has got to be amazing. And it turned out that it was. And my friend Zach Simko, at the time he said, in five years you're going to be doing that up at City stage. It's taken seven years. But he was right.
Gina: That's great. And give us the, what's it about overview.
Anthony: OK, what it's about. Melvin is this geeky kid that accidentally gets dumped into a vat of toxic waste and he becomes a environmental superhero called the Toxic Avenger. So if someone is being bad or someone's disrespecting Mother Nature or disrespecting our Earth then he rips off their heads or their arms and sings about it. There's also a love story. He's also in love with a blind librarian named Sarah so, he falls in love with her and she's blind so it's kind of a perfect match.
Gina: I see. And tell me about the music. What is the music like?
Anthony: Well, the music is all over the place. I mean this is a creative team that also worked on Memphis and I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. So there's definitely a lot of rock to begin with. There's you know ballads every time I listen to it I kept thinking of Journey at times and like I was like, wait a second, is this a Journey song? Every song reminds you of something else basically from the classic rock station. So it's it's almost like a classic rock musical. Why are you laughing?
Gina: Is this a comedy?
Anthony: No, no it's very serious. We take the environment very
serious....Ummmm, if you don't laugh at least once, we have done something terribly wrong. The effects are over the top. I mean they are supposed to be as ridiculous as they look.
And I've had a lot of fun making severed heads and my legs and arms and knives that bend when they hit someone. I've had a lot of fun making all the props for the show.
Gina: Is this OK for kids of any age?
Anthony: No. Not at all. This is recommended for mature audiences. There are, there's a lot of violence although not realistic. It's still violence, adult language, and adult themes, maybe situations, whatever you'd like to call them. But you know, it's adult humor. I would say you know 17 and up. Honestly I would say 14 and up but probably we should say 17 and up.
The thing about the Toxic Avenger is that while it's dealing with a serious issue, because we really do want to push the environmental issue about hey you know be good to your planet, you can't take the show seriously. You've got two people playing 20 roles, you know and some of them are lightning fast changes.
In fact you have one character who has a duet with herself, the the mayor and the mom have a duet and they are played by the same person.
Gina: Was it set up that way or is that just out of necessity?
Anthony: That's how it was written. And so that the jokes are in there. They know very well what they have done to this poor actress that has to pull this off. And thank God, Kira has got great comedic timing and a great voice. And if if someone can can pull off having a duet battle with themselves, I fully believe she can do it. So you're laughing a lot just giving this interview. I'm excited. also. Tell me what is going on up here in City Stage, or what it's called now, North Front Theater.
Anthony: Yes. OK so it's now called North Front Theater. I know a lot of people called it City Stage for years, and we understand that, but out of respect for the new owners, I'm really pushing the fact that it's called North Front Theater. New owners took over very soon after city stage sold it. But they were focusing on renovations. They wanted to make sure that the place was nice before that people started coming back up here. And so they really focused on the bar and the outside area and then they always intended to bring theater back in here. And now they're focusing on the theater, buying new instruments for the lights, you know, making sure that we have what we need. Cucalorus will be in here right after us.
So we're trying to pick up almost like business as usual. And it's not the same as it was. But we want to make it just as good if not better than the feeling that you got when you came and saw a City Stage show. You know the reason people came here every Halloween to see Rocky Horror or Zombie Attack or Evil Dead. We want to get that same feeling. So this year, Toxic Avenger, next year Evil Dead, year after that...yeah we're probably going to bring Rocky back.
Gina: Coming back to you, this kind of show is right up your alley.
Anthony: Absolutely. I mean I don't know of anyone else that's, what's that word, insane enough to try to pull this one off. This is this is a big show with a small cast. And comedy is always hard. I mean you see comedy is not easy. I mean people may fight me on this, but I mean drama? That's fine. I think almost anybody can do drama.
Comedy is hard.