Who Will Save The Gulf Coast?: A Look at How The Toxic Avenger Can Help Us Deal With The BP Oil Spill

Who Will Save The Gulf Coast?: A Look at How The Toxic Avenger Can Help Us Deal With The BP Oil Spill

EllaRC is a bookwriter/lyricist and musical theatre lover. She's a new contributor to MTI Marquee - add her as a friend on MTI Showspace or check out her musical theatre and social justice blog, StageLeft.

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There's been an environmental disaster of epic proportion. The public is assured that the problem is being dealt with, but things just seem to be in a downward spiral. And, it turns out, the officials who are supposed to be cleaning things up may actually be making the situation worse. What a hilarious premise for a musical comedy! Especially, because it's just so far-fetched, and not at all like anything that has been going on in the U.S. for the past 4 months...

Surprisingly, Joe DiPietro and David Bryan's rock musical THE TOXIC AVENGER (adapted from the movie of the same name), is not at all written in response to the BP oil disaster that has been weighing on the collective psyche (no joke, check out this article from the New York Times). But, it's a pretty timely piece to be considering in light of recent events.

In the musical, geeky, environmentally-inclined, Melvin Ferd III discovers that the mayor is allowing the toxic dumping that is destroying his hometown of Tromaville, NJ. Eager to save the day (and thereby win the heart of the woman of his dreams, I keep telling you - it's a musical comedy!), Melvin confronts the mayor and she vows to - literally - clean up her act. He leaves, and she turns around and tells her henchman to kill him. If only these sort of two-faced assurances were reserved for over-the-top, superhero villains in red power suits wearing sensible heels.

Up until this point, THE TOXIC AVENGER sort of feels it needs one of those Law & Order disclaimers saying that this "ripped from the headlines" story isn't actually based on real people and events. Except, then, Tromaville gets something we could really use in the Gulf Coast right now - a pollution fighting superhero. Melvin, who's been thrown into the toxic waste by governmental goons, is not dead, but transformed into (duhn duh duh) The Toxic Avenger! (a.k.a. Toxie) And Toxie steps in to do the job in Tromaville that all of BP's underwater robots couldn't manage in the Gulf. I saw THE TOXIC AVENGER months before The Oil Spill, but when thinking of musicals that help us process current events this one immediately came to mind.

Sure, Tromaville's solution is not one we can turn to in the "real world" (unless those oil covered pelicans have a very surprising secret). However, I'm a firm believer that musicals help us deal with situations in the world around us that are otherwise overwhelming. By making us laugh and cry, by showing us ourselves, and by showing us people and places we've never conceived of, musicals can help us understand the world. And if we understand something, if we're not intimidated by it, problems become manageable, and solutions become possible. This is pretty cheesy, it's also sort of my life philosophy.

So, how does THE TOXIC AVENGER help us process the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Well, first and foremost, humor. For a show that deals with serious issues, THE TOXIC AVENGER definitely doesn't take itself too seriously, and that's the key to its success. We're not laughing at "global warming" (the phrase that has become a catchall synonym for environmental destruction in the 21st century), but we're certainly laughing with Toxie on his quest to end it. Besides, any show which literally puts a corrupt politician "in bed" with a scientist (check out the song "Evil Is Hot") knows what it wants to say and how it wants to say it. This isn't literally portraying the situation wherein BP execs listed a dead scientist as the emergency contact in case of a spill in the Gulf, but it comes close enough to be upsetting. Except, in THE TOXIC AVENGER we're laughing at the situation - and as the saying goes, you have to laugh to keep from crying. Which is the whole point, almost. The other way that THE TOXIC AVENGER can help us process an environmentally devastating event is the tried and true method of catharsis - because right now, who DOESN'T want to see a big, righteous monster kick the ass (seriously, he has a song "Kick Your Ass") of all of the polluters "in town"? I know I do. Especially if kicking ass means ending global warming, or you know, cleaning up the oil in the Gulf Coast.

Clearly, it takes more than musical theatre to save the world, just like Toxie can't clean up Tromaville without getting his mom on his side and winning over the woman of his dreams. But, when we produce new musicals that relate to current events (like THE TOXIC AVENGER) we do two things. First, we force ourselves to think about what's going on in the world, even on our night off. And, by doing that, through laughter and catharsis, we help ourselves deal with problems that are otherwise too overwhelming to think about. After all, as the cast sings in the final song, "A Brand New Day in New Jersey":
"Global warming's up ahead
The experts think we'll all be dead
But they don't know we're here to fight

Corporations are full of fiends
A hurricane wiped out New Orleans
Just one guy who can make things right."

And without a real life Toxie around to be that guy, those of us watching know we need to pick up the slack.
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