ORLANDO — Watching the zany antics of the cast in “The Toxic Avenger Musical,” you might start thinking that the content of this nerdy-Jewish-boy-turned-green-slime-crusader show raises topical questions in your mind, like … do we tend to underrate toxic waste when it has the capability of transforming Melvin Ferd into a kind of Incredible Hulk in Woody Allen land?
Actually, I couldn’t help but think about something else. If he was sitting next to me in the Mandell Theater at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, watching this play, what would Chris Christie think?
Sure, the outgoing governor might object to the play’s portrayal of his home state of Joi-see as a hotbed of corruption, crime, violence and peee-yew pollution, and maybe even jump on the stage to protest. Or maybe Christie would appreciate the fact that in our hero Melvin, there’s something more toxic than his approval ratings. Hard to say.
Less difficult to judge is the success of this trash-to-treasures production, which turned a legendarily stinky 1984 horror/comedy movie into a campy musical version, complete with catchy rock songs, a delightfully high degree of bad taste, and lots of less-than-complimentary social commentary about the Garden State. The film went on to become a midnight movie cult classic that managed to inspire three film sequels, a children’s TV cartoon (!) and this 2008 stage musical, which demonstrates that bad cinema can make for very funny theater.
The plot is simple enough: nerdy Melvin is having a tough time in life — he gets bullied a lot, his town is run by a corrupt mayor who allows toxic waste to pile up in return for bribes, and he’s even saddled with a nagging Jewish mama, the kind that would make Phillip Roth wince. Oy!
Worst of all, Melvin falls in love with Sarah, the local librarian who is so beautiful — but she got hired by the corrupt Mayor Babs Belgoody because Sarah is blind and can’t possibly stumble onto all the papers the mayor is hiding about her corrupt deals. But Sarah does, and Melvin decides to impress her by threatening to expose the mayor. Babs retaliates by sending her goons to take care of him.
But when they toss Melvin into a vat of toxic waste, figuring that’s the end of him … well, he comes back in the form of the roaring, raging Toxic Avenger — although he never quite sheds his shyness around Sarah or the complaints that mama tosses at him. It ain’t easy being green.
Even Gov. Christie and the gang at “Jersey Shores” would have to appreciate the super high-energy One second we’re dancing — one second we’re singing — one second we’re delivering wicked corny jokes with style and panache performances in this once. This production, brought to the Shakes by the Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, puts a very sublime spotlight on the comedic and singing talents of two GOAT regulars, Adam McCabe and Leesa Castaneda. Both excel in their dual roles — McCabe as both the geeky Melvin and the green giant, and Castaneda is rollicking fun as the vampy and nasty mayor, and also as Melvin’s annoying Ma Ferd. The scene where Castaneda plays both characters at the same time is a riot.
Jillian Gizzi also has a lot of fun as Sarah, the sweet blind girl turned shotgun-toting avenger (though one who has a serious challenge aiming her shots), but the real scene stealers are Adam DelMedico and Daniel Martinez, who juggle so many different supporting roles that I lost count — street thugs, Puerto Rican hairdressers, swishy gay couple, savvy black women, elderly ladies — whew! Rarely did either one waste a split second milking their roles for maximum laughs.
This is the final weekend for the production, which plays tonight through Sunday at 8 p.m. at the theater at 812 E. Rollins St. in Loch Haven Park. General admission tickets are $25, and $20 for students and seniors, and can be ordered online at GOAT Tickets.
Yes, it’s hilarious; yes, the musical is a lot of fun; and yes, this cast knows how to keep it lively. By the end, I was pretty certain that even Gov. Christie might secretly approve.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..