In the grand tradition of Spider-Man, the Flash, and the Hulk, scrawny Melvin Ferd the Third becomes a superhero through uncomfortable and slightly ooky circumstances. The New Jersey nerd is dunked in a vat of glowing toxic waste by a pair of bullies, and he emerges as a ripped and slimy mutant who's dead-set on saving his polluted town.
But you won't find the Toxic Avenger — or Toxie, as he's affectionately called — in any major Marvel or DC flick. Instead, he's singing and dancing in a goofy, politically incorrect musical written by a Broadway team (it was a non-singing, horror-comedy cult film first). If you're willing to laugh at campy characters and blind-girl jokes, this show's for you.
Especially this production from Uptown Players. Using a lean, five-person cast and costumes and set rented from the original Off-Broadway mounting, director Jeremy Dumont has crafted a swift two hours of gross humor and eye-popping visuals. What makes this one so great to watch are the lightning-fast quick changes three of the actors consistently undertake.
Walter Lee and Clint Gilbert do most of the changing, impressively going from small-town toughs to giggly Jersey girls to a Frankenstein-like mob with nary a breath in between. Sara Shelby-Martin, as both Tromaville's corrupt mayor and Toxie's concerned mother, brings more than enough brassy bravado for both characters. And during her big act one finale, it's even at the same time.
Uptown newcomer Katie Porterfield is a joy as the klutzy town librarian, mixing dumb sweetness with kooky enthusiasm. She's not put off by Toxie's scabby appearance because — luckily for him — she's blind, and he won't allow her to feel his face. She just feels his muscles and assumes his name means he's French.
New York-based Dallas native John Campione is fresh off the Bridges of Madison County tour and clomping around the Kalita in sky-high platforms. Despite the challenges of his costume he looks like he's having a blast, and that even shines through all the Latex.
The score, by Memphis duo Joe DiPietro and Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan, isn't especially memorable, though it is more than capably performed by music director Adam C. Wright and his small onstage band. What sticks in this show are the performances. Well, that and probably Toxie's touch.