To legions of rock fans, he is the keyboardist of New Jersey stadium fillers Bon Jovi. But there’s more to David Bryan than big hair and power ballads. The Julliard-trained musician is also an accomplished co-writer of Broadway musicals
With author Joe DiPietro, he has had a Tony Award-winning hit with Memphis, about one of the first white DJs to play black music in the 1950s. The same team is working on Chasing the Song, about the first female music publisher in New York City. Now the two have their sights on the West End with The Toxic Avenger.
It’s a show that arrives in Edinburgh with a fine pedigree. After storming New York in 2009, it finally reached London for a try-out this year. The Telegraph called it a “gloriously silly, perfectly executed, can’t-wipe-the-grin-off triumph”.
“It’s about the most polluted town in New Jersey, where we’re from, so we knew every Jersey joke there was,” says DiPietro. “It was just funny from the get-go and moved very quickly into a production.”
It’s based on a low-budget cult movie from the 1980s, but you hardly need to know that. When DiPietro came to work on it, he realised he’d be able to retain some of its schlocky sense of fun – what he calls its “chaos and anarchy” – but the plot was too flimsy to contemplate.
“I loved the premise of this mutant freak who falls in love with a blind girl and saves New Jersey,” he says. “But the plot was very haphazard – as Lloyd Kaufman, its auteur, would admit to you. I asked Lloyd for a copy of the script and he said, ‘What script? We never wrote this down!’ Once I heard that, I knew I could do whatever I wanted.”
His version tells the story of Melvin Ferd who is dropped into a barrel of toxic gunk, turning him into an ugly and very angry eco-superhero. “Global warming and climate change haven’t gone away and it’s becoming more and more relevant,” says DiPietro. “Even a show as silly as The Toxic Avenger needs some glue underneath it – it needs to be about something – and this show is about the extremes a character goes to clean up the environment and how needed that is.
Audiences, of course, are less likely to turn up because of the green credentials than the Bon Jovi connection. “There’s one lovely young woman from Japan who flies to see all of the openings,” says DiPietro. “This show is in a Bon Jovi world, so Bon Jovi fans are happy to come.”
Working together, he says, has been an education for both of them: “The show’s got a real authentic rock’n’roll feel to it. The songs are very funny but they’re in this very specific genre, which is unusual for theatre. One of the first things he learnt was that in theatre you have to end a song with a clear applause moment, whereas in rock’n’roll you just fade. So he’s taken all those things and made them his own.”
WHERE & WHEN
The Toxic Avenger, Pleasance Courtyard, 2–28 August (not 14), 10.30pm
From £15.50, Tel: 0131 556 6550