Diana DeGarmo in
The Toxic Avenger
( © Carol Rosegg)
Diana DeGarmo in
The Toxic Avenger
( © Carol Rosegg)
There's a new lusty, flighty and spunky heroine to be found in The Toxic Avenger, now at New World Stages: American Idol finalist Diana DeGarmo has joined the cast as the blind town librarian Sarah, and she is turning in a performance that is often as funny as it is adorable -- which is a perfect fit for this giddy guilty pleasure of a musical.

Sarah has gotten the unlikely gig because the mayor of Tromaville, New Jersey, Babs Belgoody (Nancy Opel), wants to make sure that certain records about toxic waste being dumped in the hamlet don't come to light. Belgoody's assumption about her hire is wrong, though and Sarah ultimately reveals the documents to local nerd Melvin Ferd the Third (Nick Cordero). After he threatens to expose the mayor, she sets a couple of goons (Jonathan Root, Demond Green) on him and following a dipping into one of the ever-present vats of sludge in the town (and in Beowulf Boritt's clever scenic design), Melvin becomes the hideous mutant Toxic Avenger as well as the love of Sarah's life.

Clad in costume designer David C. Woollard's revealing and vivid pastel "schoolgirl" ensembles, DeGarmo uses a winning smile, a flair for physical comedy and a snicker that sounds a bit like a gerbil that's inhaled helium to bring the comedy in book writer Joe DiPietro's loopy revision to Lloyd Kaufman's 1984 cinematic gore-fest zestfully to life. Similarly, she forcefully delivers David Bryan's driving rock tunes while never losing a certain sweetness. Accordingly, tere's a concurrent humorous naïveté and vaguely scary maniacal quality to songs like "Choose Me Oprah," in which Sarah imagines the fame that will come her way after she's written about her love affair with "Toxie"

This romance is almost as central to the show as Melvin/Toxie's efforts to clean up Tromaville, and unfortunately Cordero and DeGarmo have yet to create the sort of spark that's necessary to ignite this portion of the show. They certainly make a cutely quirky duo and the comic moments between the two are always marvelous, but in this show that's all about science gone wrong, one wishes that more was right with the chemistry between the two.

It's a small quibble because the laughs generated by these two and their co-stars come fast and furious. Opel's turns as both Belgoody and Melvin's mom continues to be hilarious, and Green's work remains spot-on as he plays multiple roles (both men and women) with astounding specificity. As his compatriot, Root delivers with equal precision.

Director John Rando's staging remains a merry delight, even on a second viewing within the space of five months; it's difficult to imagine decapitations and tasteless jokes about the disabled landing with any more finesse than they do in The Toxic Avenger.