Welcome to a new recurring column here at The Sexy Armpit called The Rahway Redemption. The legendary Rahway Prison, a.k.a East Jersey State Prison has quite a menacing look about it. Whenever I drive by the monstrous institution, I definitely get a little creeped out. Thanks in part to it’s unsympathetic and raw reputation, this slammer is a star in it’s own right. Well, at least a star enough to get a column dedicated to it here at The Armpit! I’m attempting to break out of the prison but I need your help! In this column I need you to read on as I present Rahway Prison’s most notable appearances in pop culture.
DANGER: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS HAZARDOUS CHEMICALS!
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – A musical version of Troma’s classic cult film The Toxic Avenger made it’s debut at the George Street Playhouse on Friday night October 10th 2008, and The Sexy Armpit crashed the premiere party. OK, so we didn’t crash, they actually let us come. I’ve never seen a play on the George Street stage, but as I crossed the street and saw flood lights and a huge Toxie billboard, I knew they were providing a fitting reception for Troma’s first son Toxie. My imagination was sparked before I even made my way into the building. Instead of a red carpet, a black carpet covered the ground and stairs leading up to the entrance. The carpet was splattered with bright green “sludge” and boot prints as if Toxie walked into the playhouse just before I did. It’s the cool little details that impress me.
After having a wacky conversation with creator and director of Troma films, Lloyd Kaufman, my colleague Big Sal (formerly of ECW) and I got our tickets ripped, sat our asses down, and then just let the anticipation and excitement fester until showtime. Apprehension came over me as I worried how a musical version of the cult classic The Toxic Avenger would turn out. Was there a need for a Toxic Avenger musical? Hell yes! Toxic Avenger is a well known character but mostly with fan boys and the cult film obsessed folks. Toxie is finally getting his due.
“This is disturbing…”
“This is disturbing…”
“This is disturbing…”
“This is disturbing,” an older woman sitting behind me whispered at least four times. She felt the need to announce her declaration to the people on her left and right. The play was only a few minutes underway and I felt like showing her what was disturbing! I suppose she had no clue what kind of images were in store for her as the tale of Toxie unfolded. Was she at all familiar with the first superhero from New Jersey? Would she be even more appalled when she realized that people would be maimed and beaten with their own limbs on stage? Would she be aghast at the blind jokes? Had she ever lived a moment of her stuffy life as an outcast? Could she related to Melvin Ferd the 3rd’s feelings of rejection? I would soon find out. Although, I can bet that this minuscule piece of glowing, radioactive pop culture has no place in her hoity-toity lifestyle. Toxie was made for us, not them!
The George Street Playhouse, thanks to it’s stadium style seating, enables everyone in the house to enjoy an unobstructed view of the stage. The set, designed by Beowulf Boritt, was adorned with vats of fuming toxic chemicals and an old beat up turnpike sign. The sign warned the audience they were no longer in New Brunswick, but Exit 13, Tromaville. The set atmosphere made me feel like I was in a comic book and it was the perfect combination of gross and eerie. Thankfully the show did not rely on over the top special effects, but there were plenty of sight gags, costume changes, and a revolving set piece in the middle of the stage that helped suspend our disbelief. My attention was fixed on the infinitely talented actors who dazzled the stage. The full band was ready to rock as the actors seized the spotlight.
A guy coughs from the awful fumes rising from the NJ turnpike while a nun prays “Who will save New Jersey?” From the looks of it, we actually do need a savior! The once beautiful Tromaville is being polluted by New York City and the corrupt mayor is to blame. Meanwhile the geeky Melvin Ferd the 3rd is in love with a cute blonde and blind librarian named Sara. Melvin stumbles upon the Mayor’s plans that could further ruin the environment and the Mayor’s career if they were released. The Mayor instructs her thugs to “get the geek,” but it backfires after they drop him into a vat of toxic chemicals. Melvin emerges deformed and oozing with toxic neon green sludge. Makes you want to think twice about moving to Jersey, huh? Hence, New Jersey’s first superhero is born, The Toxic Avenger! Toxie plans on dethroning the corrupt Mayor and eliminating pollution from the Garden State. Minor details of the original film were altered in order to modernize the story. Although, If you’re a hardcore Toxie fan, don’t worry you won’t be disappointed! Live theater is usually the perfect venue to see some stellar performances but on this night, there was an air of magic. It was obvious that the players were enthusiastic about there roles and there were no “I can’t believe I’m doing this” attitudes.
Deformed and doused in sludge, was Nick Cordero as he bravely took on the main role of the geeky Melvin Ferd the Third and the legendary superhuman Toxic Avenger. The Mayor of Tromaville proclaims him a terrorist, even though he’s trying to rid New Jersey of it’s toxic waste. Cordero’s performance as Toxie at times recalled the despondence of the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera as well as the zealous and fiery performance of Sebastian Bach several years ago in Broadway’s Jekyll & Hyde. The operatic rock songs flourished thanks to Cordero’s rousing, dynamic voice. Toxie even made his way into the audience during “Everybody Dies.” I thought the lady behind me would have a coronary.
Nancy Opel’s (Urinetown) performance is truly dazzling as she takes on double duty playing Melvin’s mother as well as the Mayor of Tromaville. As Melvin’s mother she’s noticeably disgusted at how he can never get anything right. Even when her son becomes a toxic monster she wonders “Could you at least put your left eyeball where it’s supposed to be?” It was apparent that Opel sunk her teeth into this role especially during a fun and frantic scene where Toxie’s mom and the Mayor have a run in (It‘s impossible!). It’s a scene right out of a Three’s Company episode. There were plenty of winks at the audience like the moment where the Mayor’s searching for Melvin and claims “I’ll find him, I know his mother.” Watch out for Opel and Demond Green’s steamy performance of “Evil is Hot,” it was so freakin’ hot!
Certain actors are born performers while others hone their skills, and chip away in a never-ending attempt to be great. Audra Blaser (Bandidas) is a born performer. Her portrayal of the innocent, blind librarian Sara, love interest of Toxie, proved to be a highlight of the play. How can that snooty lady behind me get offended at blind jokes when such an adorable, and refreshing actress is the butt of them? I was surprised by Blaser’s knack for comedy which obviously didn’t pass by the casting director’s radar either. Not only is Sara funny but also compassionate as she wonders why Toxie isn‘t mauling her: “If you’re gay, we can still be best friends and watch American Idol together.” I’m glad the casting folks stayed true to the original characters. Blaser showed no signs of worry, although she had some pretty big shoes to fill since the role of Sara previously belonged to some of the quirkiest, and offbeat actresses including Andree Maranda, Phoebe Legere, and Heidi Sjursen. The dreamy Blase was joined by Demond Green and David Josefsberg during the song “My Big French Boyfriend” which was possibly the funniest moment in entire the show.
The sentence “As black dude and white dude, Demond Green and David Josefsberg are quite versatile actors” holds the record for BIGGEST understatement of all time. I don’t think I can count how many different characters these two guys appeared as. Whether they were guys, girls, thugs, Springsteen wannabes, or hairdressers, they were thoroughly entertaining and proved to be an immense force of comic relief.
Having two famous Jersey guys on the writing staff didn’t hurt a bit. Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) wrote the book and lyrics while David Bryan (keyboardist of Bon Jovi) wrote music and lyrics to this rocking musical. The ingenious songs proved to be the productions’ throbbing, slimy nucleus. You’ll only need to experience the show once and you’ll realize they’re just as memorable and catchy as songs from the soundtracks of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Little Shop of Horrors. I want the songs on my iPod already! I’ve probably been to almost 50 live theater performances in my life and the minority of them featured songs that I would actually think of listening to elsewhere. This exuberant soundtrack has joined the minority!
Toxic Avenger the Musical was directed by Tony Award winning director John Rando (Urinetown). Props (no pun intended) to another Jersey native John Dods for creating superb special effects and prosthetics. Dods has worked on some of my favorite films and TV shows including Monsters ‘88-‘91, Ghostbusters II, and Black Roses!
The spirit of Lloyd Kaufman’s film making style was ever present. Judging by this show, you don’t need a cast of hundreds to put on a successful and entertaining production. Perhaps other productions can take a lesson from The Toxic Avenger (or they should read Lloyd Kauffman’s book All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger). In this case, improvising is the catalyst for some of the musical’s best moments. For the true Toxie fans, you’ll see nods to the original series like when Toxie slam dunks some thugs severed head. In another signature Toxie move, he pulls open his pants to check out how the size of his manhood mushroomed! I’m sure Sara will be pleased!
The Toxic Avenger musical completely squashed my apprehensions with it’s outlandish fun. In classic New Jersey fashion, the audience gave a raucous standing ovation while clapping and rocking out. Expect your cheeks to hurt from laughing and your eyes to be glued to the stage. At the end of the show, for the first time in my life I wanted to be doused in some of that hazardous neon green ooze emitting from the marshes of Exit 13. Oh, and if you’re at all like that woman sitting behind me, then stay home and watch Masterpiece Theater or I may toss your big old pretentious ass into a bubbling vat of toxic sludge!
Photos displayed above from The Toxic Avenger Musical by David Saint and T.Charles Erickson.
Now here’s some photos from the Premiere Party!
If you’re worth your weight in geek, you can’t wait for The Watchmen movie to be released. It’s sure to be an excruciating 6 months, and even the slightest Watchmen reference doesn’t calm my anxious anticipation. Hopefully the court will rule in favor of allowing Watchmen to be released on schedule that way we won’t have to continue pulling our hair out and re-watching the first chapter of the motion comic on iTunes for the fifty-thousandth time! In the meantime, you’re in luck you Sexy Armpiters! You can temporarily calm those nerves because there are a few references to New Jersey in the pages of the classic Watchmen comic book series! Don’t worry, there’s no spoilers here, so if you haven’t read Watchmen you can still enjoy this post! Shame on you…READ WATCHMEN NOW!
Chapter IV: Watchmaker centers around the most interesting and cool looking character in Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan. Jon Osterman a.k.a Dr. Manhattan holds a PH.D in Atomic Physics from Princeton University, in New Jersey. An Ivy League school, Princeton boasts graduates ranging from U.S presidents to dropouts such as Bruce Wayne, as well as serving as the location for several scenes in the upcoming Transformers 2 Revenge of the Fallen.
According to Wikipedia here’s what Osterman DIDN’T learn while matriculating at Princeton: “Manhattan’s powers include superhuman strength, the ability to teleport himself or others, the manipulation of matter at a subatomic level, and near total clairvoyance.” Oh yeah, Manhattan can also fix watches which isn’t traditionally that cool but proves to be a gift that gets him laid!
In this chapter, we also find out that the mother of Manhattan’s former flame Janey Slater lives in New Jersey. Janey and Jon decide to kill some time at an amusement park while waiting for Janey’s mother to get home.
Dr. Manhattan reflects on an old photo of himself with his past girlfriend taken at Palisades Amusement Park in N.J. You may remember Freddy Cannon singing about falling in love at “Palisades Park,” a song he recorded that was written by Chuck Barris and later covered by The Ramones. Palisades Amusement park featured the largest salt water wave pool in the country, thanks to water pumping in from the Hudson River. (ewwww! what were they thinking? lol) Presently there’s a high rise luxury apartment complex built on it’s property, but in it’s day the wildly popular Palisades Park was the place to be. Dr. Manhattan wasn’t reminiscing about Coney Island now was he? How ’bout that, huh?
They weren’t lying in Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, we New Jerseyans can really put away massive amounts of White Castle burgers. Although, I’d hate to disappoint you, not everyone in New Jersey is a stoner but we definitely have our fair share of characters who are. The legendary Jay and Silent Bob oh so proudly enjoyed some herbal refreshments: “who smokes the blunts, we smoke the blunts!” and then Harold and Kumar followed in their footsteps, albeit in a more nerdy and culturally diverse way. The film depicts their wild and outlandish journey to get some White Castles to feed their craving.
As I’ve mentioned in the previous installments of New Jersey’s Great Pop Culture Moments, (or NJ’sGPCM’s if you’re into the whole brevity thing) is that seeing a film or TV show where your state and surrounding cities get name dropped is really freakin’ cool. Even though the film gives the impression that it’s 100% Jersey, Harold and Kumar was filmed mostly in Canada and Los Angeles. Filming in New Jersey is expensive but there are some scenes filmed in Hoboken N.J and on the Garden State Parkway.
On their quest for some sliders, Harold and Kumar hold up traffic at a toll because their change didn’t activate the light to go green. Every car horn explodes because the impatient Jersey drivers can’t handle the delay. In usual Jersey style, the raging, belligerent a-hole behind them sticks his head out the window and screams at them: “Hey MOVE YOUR ASS!…MOVE YOU FUCKING TWAT…MOVE YOU RETARDED COCK SUCKER! MOVE!” That’s a typical day on the road in Jersey. God has granted you peace if you live in another state. If so, bless you, you’ll be able to live a calm, stress free life.
After getting cursed off, Harold and Kumar get off at the wrong exit and wind up in Newark. Kumar had the exact same sentiments we all have when we’re driving through Newark: “You know we’re gonna get shot!” From there, the boys get to New Brunswick just to find out that the lame Burger Shack has replaced White Castle! It seemed to be one disappointment after another until the guys are hiding from security in the girls bathroom. Then they had to suffer through two hot British girls playing a little game called “battleshits.”
The film featured a few notable cameos. Jaime Kennedy turned in possibly the creepiest performance he’s ever done, and Ryan Reynolds played a supergay doctor. It’s just a hunch, but something tells me that the Johnny come lately’s are going to be snatching copies of Harold and Kumar up so they can see Silk Spectre II’s boobies if they missed it the first time. That’s right, Malin Akerman plays Liane the hot girlfriend of the disgusting Freakshow. And I cannot forget Neil Patrick Harris’ brilliant, horny, drug induced appearance before he came out with his gay revelation.
Look out for Kumar’s love montage with a gigantic bag of weed to the tune of Heart’s “Crazy on You.” It’s one of the most hysterical scenes ever, especially after Kumar backhands the bag of weed: “Learn how to make coffee you fucking whore!” Even though I haven’t watched the sequel yet, I salute Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle for being a modern Jersey classic!
A southern New Jersey coal mine is represented in the movie Zoolander. This movie is chock full of comedic gold and the fact that one of the funniest scenes takes place in New Jersey just makes it funnier, and even more pathetic!
Just before Derek Zoolander decides to leave the modeling firm, Maury Ballstein explains to Derek how hot Mugatu is: “Right now this guy is so hot he can take a crap, wrap it in tin foil, put a couple of fish hooks on it, and sell to Queen Elizabeth as earrings.”
DEREK: “I’m going back home. I need to get in touch with my roots…figure out who I am…see ya around Maury”
Derek’s coal mining family (Pop, Luke, and Scrappy) are played by Jon Voight, Vince Vaughn, and Judah Freelander. They’re noticeably surprised at the sight of their long lost brother, or just by the hideous snakeskin suit he’s wearing! What follows is an absurdly funny montage to the tune of Loverboy’s “Working For The Weekend.”