The Toxic Avenger. The Musical. The Beginning.

As everyone in theatre knows, the off-Broadway musical is dead.

So I decided to write one.

A couple of years ago-ish, a producer by the name of Jean Cheever excitedly called me and said she had obtained the rights to a classic cult film. Now, I get calls all the time from producers with a “hey, let’s turn this movie into a musical” idea. To be honest, most of these ideas strike me as unbelievably terrible uninteresting, but Jean is a friend so I laughed knowingly and asked, “What movie?”

“The Toxic Avenger” was the magical title that floated out of her mouth.

For those of you who didn’t happen to catch the film in 1986 because you weren’t a drunken teenager were busy, The Toxic Avenger tells the tale of the most polluted town in New Jersey and the hapless young man who is thrown into a vat of toxic good and emerges a large mutant freak who proceeds to save the state by mauling polluters. (Bonus Theatre Trivia: Sondheim has been trying to turn this into a musical for years but could never “crack” it.)

Now, having been a drunken teenager cinephile in 1986, I had nothing but fond memories of the film, made by the mad auteur Lloyd Kaufman. So I immediately told Jean, “I’m in..”

“And to write the music,” I cockily added, “how about one of the guys from the ultimate New Jersey band, Bon Jovi?”
“Sounds great,” Jean said, audibly savlivating, “but how could we ever get to them?”
I again laughed knowingly and hung up.

Now several years ago, I happened to be looking for a composer to colloborate on a new rock ‘n roll musical called “Memphis.” My agent told me that he knew Joe Jackson’s manager (jackpot!) and he would send it out, certain that Joe would be interested. And about three months later, I received a call, but not from Joe.

“Hey,” the unknown voice muttered, “this is David Bryan, I’m the keyboardist for Bon Jovi and I’d like to know how I can write the score to Memphis.”

All right, full confession — rock stars don’t usually call me, but I was able to pull myself together enough to chat and I suggested that he pick out a lyric (I had written some first-draft lyrics in the script) and write a tune and send it to me. He readily agreed (are all rock stars this agreeable?) and two days later, a CD was FedExed to me. David had selected a lyric called, “Music of My Soul” and the man had written a song that was theatrical, rockin’ and, well, freakin’ fantastic. “Please God,” I silently prayed, “let him not be crazy.” And hallelujah, he wasn’t.

So David and I wrote “Memphis” and quickly became fast friends and partners. (Please note: by partners, I mean writing partners. David is straight and has a fantastic fiancee and three great kids. I’m gay and sleep with my dog.) “Memphis,” I’m happy to report, just had two kickin’ productions at LaJolla Playhouse and Seattle Fifth Avenue and may even be heading to New York in the very near future — but that’s another blog. Stay tuned.

Back to Toxic. So I called up David.
“David,” I said, “remember that flick, The Toxic Avenger?”
“Oh yeah,” he said, “it was about, like, a monster and New Jersey or something? And there’s a blind chick and lots of people get ripped apart or something. I remember seeing it when I was drunk.”
“Exactly. How’d you like to turn it into a musical?”
“Love it,” he responded, “I’m in.”

And thus was born The Toxic Avenger musical. We begin rehearsals in the musical graveyard artisic firmament known as off-Broadway on Tuesday, February 24th and we open in less than six weeks. This daily blog will chronicle our journey from rehearsals to previews to the oh-God-please-let-them-like-it opening night on April 6th.

So why am I writing this blog, you ask? Well, to sell tickets, I answer. But more importantly, I’m planning on giving you a no-holds-barred, in-depth peek into the process by which a musical is made. All the singing and dancing and rewriting. All the artistic arguments and bitter compromises. Yes, folks, we’re making a musical. Nerves will be frayed, feelings will be hurt, and careers will be made or squashed. All in an effort to entertain you for ninety minutes of your life.

But it’s a musical. And I love the art form. And I love The Toxic Avenger. And I hope you’ll love it, too.

On Tuesday, I’ll report on the first day of rehearsals when the actors will be learning the music and I will have a total crisis of faith in my talent.

With undying love,
Joe