KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK: Tromaville in L5P: Nick Arapoglou Radiates as the First Superhero from New Jersey in Horizon Theatre’s THE TOXIC AVENGER

Posted on: Feb 17th, 2016 By:
Kool Kat of the Week Nick Arapaglou as Toxie in Horizon Theatre's production of THE TOXIC AVENGER. Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

Kool Kat of the Week Nick Arapaglou as Toxie in Horizon Theatre’s production of THE TOXIC AVENGER. Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

Horizon Theatre’s production of THE TOXIC AVENGER (Wed-Sun., through March 13) is a musical comedy based on the cult 1984 Troma film.  If that means anything at all to you, it is likely the best news you’ve heard all day. The plot will be familiar to fans, and I don’t want to spoil anything for the rest of you. All you need to know about the show itself, depending on how seriously you want to take it, is to expect social commentary on pollution, corrupt politicians and a deft satire of the superhero genre. And a seven-foot tall mutant with superhuman strength and a heart of gold. The original stage production opened in New Jersey in 2008, followed by a successful Off-Broadway run in 2009.

Local actor Nick Arapoglou plays the lead. Nick, originally from Huntington, NY, went to high school in Atlanta and moved back here after college. He has been acting professionally for about a decade, notably as Princeton (for which he learned puppetry!) in all three local productions (at three different venues) of AVENUE Q, and he won 2011’s Suzi Bass Award for Lead Actor in a Musical. Other roles during the past few years include Asher Lev in MY NAME IS ASHER LEV (Theatrical Outfit), Romeo in ROMEO AND JULIET (Shakespeare Tavern) and Bobby Strong in URINETOWN (Fabrefaction Theatre). “Of course, I also enjoyed THE GIFTS OF THE MAGI at Theatrical Outfit, because my wife played opposite me in that show for three years straight!” Nick said.

In addition to a diverse stage career, the actor has done lots of on-camera work . Look for him later this year in the films TABLE 19 (with Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson), THE ACCOUNTANT (Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick), THE BOSS (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell), and CONFIRMATION (Kerry Washington).

Needless to say, those are some fantastic credits, but yeah, we admit we made Nick Kool Kat of the Week now because we think he’s in the role of a lifetime. And we’re absolutely troma-tized that he took time from his trashy schedule to talk Toxie with ATLRetro.

Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

Not funny! Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

First of all, what’s it like to portray a pop culture icon? (and make no mistake…)

Ha! I think when you are playing a role where there are those kinds of expectations, you have to make sure there are moments when you give a tip of the hat to the fans. We certainly have those moments placed within the show. But putting on a big green suit and kicking ass with a mop is about as awesome as you think it is!

Were you a fan of the films?

I’m going to be honest—I still haven’t seen them. I know that might make some people gasp! But there’s a reason why I didn’t once I accepted the role. There are very few new shows and musicals that hit the stage in Atlanta. They’ve usually been done in New York first. So it’s always important to me to try to bring my own take on the role and do a recycled impression of an impression of someone else’s take. That’s a huge trap in musicals especially. People listen to the CD so much and that colors their performance. So, the point is, I didn’t want to see the film and then have my performance be shaped by someone else’s. I did watch the trailer though and laughed hysterically—so you can bet once we close this thing that’s the first thing in my queue.

Had you seen or were you aware of any of the previous productions before this one came along?

Yes, we were aware especially of the award-winning Off-Broadway performance in NYC. I listened to the score a few times to get a sense of the music, but then stopped before it got in my head too much!

How did you end up cast in the lead?

Well, this is the same creative team that was behind AVENUE Q. Our excellent director Heidi McKerley (who won the Suzi Award for Best Director for AVE Q) and I have now done 11 or 12 productions together. She was one of the first people to cast me years ago and we have developed quite the resume of kickass musicals at this point. Also the music director Renee Clark (Suzi Award for Best Music Direction for AVE Q) and I have also worked together for years and years. She is an unbelievable talent, and every show she works on is better because of her presence. So I’m sure the working relationships I have with both those two fierce ladies led to their trust in casting me as the lead in this show.

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Don’t drop him! Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

You’re two weeks into a scheduled six-week run. How have audiences responded so far? Gotten any feedback from Troma fans yet?

I know I’m supposed to say this, but audiences love the show. No matter if the theater is sold out completely or we have maybe a smaller crowd on a Wednesday, they jump to their feet by the end of the show. I mean jump to their feet. It’s happened every night. We are really proud of what we are doing. The cast is a firestorm of musical theatre rock talent. Don’t believe me? Come watch, you’ll see!

We have definitely gotten some Troma fan feedback. It’s been awesome. They are always satisfied and super happy to take pictures at the end of the night with Big Green Freak.

How would you describe the show to (warn?) fans of musical theater that don’t recognize the title?

Nothing to warn about really. Because it’s a musical, obviously the gore factor has to be toned way down for audiences. But that doesn’t take away from the story and the fun at all, believe me. I think this show is rated PG-13, but a hilarious PG-13. It’s a train. It’s campy, and ridiculous, and hilarious. Everyone leaves smiling. If you don’t leave that way, you were trying not to like it, and in that case, I feel bad for you.

toxie-comes-alive_24148251913_o

Toxie comes alive! Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

The movies feature absurd, disgusting, hilarious violence. Any chance you rip some punk’s arm off onstage?

Some punk’s arm? How about multiple punks’ arms.

The musical was written by New Jersey natives Joe DiPietro and David Bryan. Their last collaboration, MEMPHIS, won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Musical. Bryan wrote the music (and co-wrote the lyrics with DiPietro) during downtime from his day job, keyboardist for another ’80s Jersey juggernaut, Bon Jovi. So is it safe to say the score rocks?

The music is just fun. We have a kicking band. You’ll hear some sick guitar distortion solos and bass, hot keyboard play and insane drum solos.

And this cast can sing. Make no mistake—it rocks.

THE TOXIC AVENGER runs through March 13 at the Horizon Theatre. Showtimes are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8:30pm, and Sunday at 5pm. Tickets start at $25. www.horizontheatre.com or 404-548-7450 for tickets and info.

The play contains adult language and content, and even though they’d love it, is not recommended for children.

All photos provided by Horizon Theatre and used with permission.

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Julie Johnson Takes a Broadway Train Back to MEMPHIS at the Fox Theatre

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2012 By:

Bryan Fenkart as Huey Calhoun and the Broadway Cast. Photo credit: Randy Morrison

By Jordan Barbeau
Contributing Writer

The Tony Awards are the theater equivalent to the Oscars – the most prestigious awards any production or stage actor/actress can earn. As huge of a feat as this is, MEMPHIS, a Broadway hit show about a boy with rock ‘n’ roll in his heart, easily did just that. With its emotionally gripping story and fun numbers, MEMPHIS had no trouble winning the award for Best Musical in 2010. Overwhelming praise from fans and critics alike, along with its earning of this prestigious award, prompted a national tour of the show, and lucky for Atlantans, it’s here at the Fox Theatre for a week run from Tues. Jan. 31 through Sun. Feb. 5.

Julie Johnson, a singer and actress from Texas, holds the distinct honor of getting to portray one of the more interesting characters in the play – the mother of the main character, Huey. Scared and staunchly against her son’s plans, “Mama” does everything in her power to keep her son away from “black music,” refusing to accept his love of the art. It can’t be a coincidence that she has the same name, Gladys, as the mother of Elvis Presley, Memphis’s most famous rock n roll son.

Julie Johnson.

Julie, unlike her character, fully appreciates and embraces the art of singing and performing. According to the actress, it’s been her destiny since she was a child to perform in front of people. “It’s almost like my DNA was in the shape of a microphone,” she laughs. One glance at the list of Julie’s past productions assures that no one is going to argue that fact. Besides being an accomplished solo artist, Julie has performed in plenty of Broadway productions ranging from SWEENEY TODD to CABARET.

Even to an experienced actress such as herself, one would think that performing in such a widely loved production in front of thousands of people a year would be intimidating. To Julie, this is apparently not the case. She says the fact that the audience already knows and loves the play makes it easier. “It’s like being an ambassador,” she says of bringing the once Broadway-exclusive show to those around the country. “You feel like Bruce Springsteen.”

It goes without saying that one cannot perform in a musical about 1950s rock ‘n’ roll without having some prior knowledge of the genre. It would be like a child trying to run before he learned how to crawl. Julie is no exception. W hen asked about the time period, Julie says that her favorite artist from the ‘50s is one of the most famous blues artists of all time, Mr. B. B. King himself.

Felicia Boswell (Felicia) and the Touring Cast of MEMPHIS. Photo credit: Paul Kolnik.

Huey’s mom may be a very close-minded character, but Julie does not fault her for that. In fact, she understands her fears, having grown up surrounded by similar feelings and thoughts. In the end, despite all of the initial hesitation to accept the change, Julie says that the music is what makes everyone and everything whole, allowing folks to do what seemed impossible – unifying a split time.

Fortunately for the people of Atlanta, Julie says that audiences here will connect with MEMPHIS even more than most, due to the city’s deep roots in black music. She adds that she has not had the opportunity to spend much time here in the great ATL, but when MEMPHIS comes to the Fox this week, Julie hopes to explore the city and see what she’s been missing!

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Kool Kat of the Week: Sweden’s Sofia Talvik On Drivin’, Dreaming and Playing the Drunken Unicorn Sat. Jan. 21

Posted on: Jan 18th, 2012 By:

Photo courtesy of Sofia Talvik.

Singer/songwriter Sofia Talvik may hail from Sweden but she’s no stranger to America, with five full-length albums and nine EPs, having blown away audiences at Austin’s SXSW and holding the distinction of being the first Swedish artist to play Lollapalooza. In fact, she’s likely more popular here than in her native Scandinavia. Her current two-year American tour rolls into the Drunken Unicorn this sat. Jan. 21 where she’ll be opening at the release party for Divine Isis‘s new EP SCREAM, with Pocket the Moon also on the night’s bill.

The comparisons Sofia has drawn to Joni Mitchell, Aimee Mann and The Cranberries caught our attention, and listening to her music, an otherworldly edge, surprising twists and powerful, haunting vocals make her much more than just another pretty folk-pop-acoustic performer. In other words, in Scandinavian music terms that Americans can understand, she’s no ABBA retread and not quite the enigmatic eccentric of Bjork, but carving her own unique and welcome niche in the music world. Sofia’s roots also are pure indie and the 21st century of vagabond on the Internet, being a self-taught musician who started building a following by giving away her songs online. And well, we have a sweet spot for anyone driving cross-country from gig to gig in an old RV.

All of which adds up to being a Kool Kat, so we decided to ask Sofia to tell us a little bit more about her roots, her music, her tour and her plans for this Saturday’s gig.

ATLRetro: How did you get started in music and decide you wanted to be a professional singer/songwriter?

Sofia Talvik: I had played the piano since I was about eight years old, mostly playing classical music. So turned I was 18, I wished for a guitar for my birthday but  had no idea how to play so I started writing songs to learn. I never had any dreams or ideas that I would become a pop star or anything like that. I just did my songs that I played for my friends now and then. After a while I recorded a demo and sent it to a radio show for unsigned music who picked up my song, “Ghosts.” All of the sudden people started to email wanting to hear more, so I put up a Website where I just uploaded my songs and started playing live. Then it just kind of went from there.

Photo courtesy of Sofia Talvik.

You’ve been compared to Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Belle and Sebastion, The Cranberries and Aimee Mann, but who do you consider your influences—especially more classic Retro performers (i.e. ‘60s, ‘70s or before)?

It’s hard to pin down influences I think. All the things you listen to and experience become your influence. I did listen to a lot of ’60s music when I was a teenager and I love Janis Joplin, but I don’t think anyone will hear her as an influence in my music. I actually started listening to Nick Drake – who by the way is one of the big 60’s artists – after being compared to him and I love his music, but he was way better at playing the guitar than I’ll ever be (laughs).

You’ve said you’ve had a stronger response to your music in America than in Sweden. What’s the music scene like in Sweden and how do you fit into it? And how does it compare with what you’ve experienced here?

I think mainly because Sweden is so much smaller than the US, there’s not enough people to keep the diversity going. If say five percent of the Swedish population listens to my music, compared to if five percent of the American population does, that’s a huge difference. That’s the difference that will make you being able to live off your music or not. I also think Sweden is more of a trend-sensitive country, so when something is in trend all the radio stations will play it, and if it goes out of trend, no one will care all of a sudden. Here in the US, everything goes on at once. You have radio stations that just play folk or just play pop here. There’s always an audience here for your music, you just have to find it, and that’s what I’m doing with this tour.

How does a Swedish artist come to write a song about “Florida”?

Well, in 2009, my husband was on an exchange program on his job and we stayed in Orlando,FL for three months. As Sweden is kind of a cold and rainy country, I was looking forward to coming to “The Sunshine State.” But the first two weeks when we arrived it rained constantly. My husband was working so I was basically just sitting in the apartment writing songs. “Florida” is like a diary note from those two weeks, and the forecast in the beginning of the song on the album is actually a real one from that time.

Is there any story about how you became the first Swedish female artist to score a spot at Lollapalooza?

I was part of an online music competition called Famecast and got to the finals in my genre. So they actually flew me over to Austin, TX where I got to perform for a jury and an audience. I didn’t win, but the booker for Lolla saw me there and I got the gig. Playing the Lollapalooza was one of the coolest things I’ve done. That festival is huuuuge!

You’ve got a VW bus on one of your posters and you’re traveling around the US in an Old RV. That sounds mighty Retro to us – how’d you score those wheels, where did you start, how long have you been on the road and what’s your favorite on-the-road Americana experience so far?

My tour is called Drivin’ & Dreaming, because it’s all about touring and living the dream. We actually don’t tour in a VW bus even though that would have been really cool, however, it would probably also have been a lot colder than a newer RV. My husband and I started out the tour in Florida in December where [we] bought this old Gulfstream Conquest from ’94 which we fixed up. It looked pretty good until we started tearing off the wallpaper and discovered it had water leaks all over. But we just tore everything out and now it’s really nice inside – our little home on the road.

So far the tour has been amazing. We’ve met so many wonderful people who invited us into their homes, for dinner and brunch, helping out with stuff etc. We’ve also got to see a lot. We were around Florida in December which was nice and warm and then we headed up to GA, SC and NC. Savannah, GA was wonderful and we stayed there for a few days. In Charleston, I woke up in the middle of the night because someone tried to steal the bikes we had mounted on the back of the RV. That was scary. But mostly it’s been positive experiences. One of the best things is that I get to do this with my husband. He actually quit his dayjob back in Sweden to come with me on tour.

You’ve also been described as emerging like a Lady of the Forest, the slideshow accompanying your current shows brings the mystical world of Scandinavia to life, and your Website asks “do you believe in fairy tales?”  Now that sounds like your music also has roots in the rich folktales and traditional music of Sweden or do you mean something else and more universal?

I think I’d label my music as a mix between the melancholy of Scandinavia and the mysteriousness of the American South. You won’t find me singing about trolls and elves or anything, but I guess my music does have a bit of that overworldly feel to it. I think you can definitely tell that I’m not American in my way of writing lyrics and melodies, even though I am singing in English.

What would you like to share about this Saturday’s show at the Drunken Unicorn? We’ve heard that you’re performing with an acoustic guitar and some 3D video visuals.

I’m really looking forward to playing there, and I hope there will be a big crowd that will be there for the music. I’m solo on stage, and my music isn’t crafted to overpower drunk people talking and watching TV (laughs). I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to play a lot of listening rooms and coffee shops on the tour, and I always try to make my show the best one so far. A girl with an acoustic guitar – you may think you’ve heard it before, but I promise there’s more in this show than that.

What’s next for Sofia Talvik?

My new album, THE OWLS ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM, will be released January 31 and is up for pre-orders on my Website now. My tour will go on for two years so that will also keep me busy. In February, I’m doing an official showcase at the Folk Alliance International Conference in Memphis, so I’m really looking forward to that too. In the nearest future, thoug,h I think we’ll have to find a campground so we can charge our house battery in the RV a little.

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