Thru June 26
If you happen to see a greenish radiation cloud on the east side of Cleveland, possibly Cain Park, I am happy to tell you that this is one radiation treatment you don’t have to avoid. Giggling and Camping its way on stage at the Alma Theatre is the quirky musical The Toxic Avenger. This monstrosity of a production is brought to you by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, who produced the Book and Music respectively, while both bonged their way with the lyrics.
The Toxic Avenger is a 1984 American superhero horror comedy film directed by Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman (credited as Samuel Weil) and written by Kaufman and Joe Ritter. The film was released by Troma Entertainment, known for producing low-budget B-movies with campy concepts and gruesome violence. Virtually ignored upon its first release, The Toxic Avenger caught on with filmgoers after a long and successful midnight movie engagement at the famed Bleeker Street Cinemas in New York City in late 1985. It now is regarded as a cult classic.
Melvin Ferd the Third (Ellis C. Dawson III) wants to clean up Tromaville, the most polluted town in New Jersey. Foiled by the mayor’s (Kate Leigh Michalski) bullies (Marish Burke and Codie Higer), Melvin is dumped into a vat of radioactive toxic waste, only to reemerge as The Toxic Avenger, New Jersey’s first superhero. He’s out to save New Jersey, end global warming, and woo the blind librarian (Natalie Green) in town.
Director and Choreographer Nathan Motta has put together a stellar cast to tell this toxic tale, and delivered camp on every level. Once again, Music Director Jordon Cooper provides brilliant musicianship. Special Effects Designer P. J. Toomey provides highly entertaining and brooding elements to the show. Lighting Designer Trad A Burns (no period after A) creates a neurotic and ominous atmosphere. Costume Designer Tesia Dugan Benson kicks some serious designing ass in this show. Her highlight is the dysfunctional Confrontation between Ma Ferd and Mayor Babs Belgoody. Although the Bride of Frankenstein-esque Mayor wig is to die for. Sound Designer Richard B. Ingraham tries valiantly, but because of the venue itself, or some other factor, it is very difficult to hear and understand lots of the dialogue and lyrics. Probably my biggest critique of the show.
Ellis C. Dawson III seemed to have a blast with the dual role of Melvin Ferd The Third/Toxic Avenger. He provides nerdish charm and a strong voice to helm the production. As Sarah, the blind librarian, Natalie Green fires on all cylinders. Green is a consummate professional who can milk and nail every comedic moment. Along the way she can belt or serenade us with her glorious voice. She is serving blind realness with hilarious results. One performance that will be hard to forget is delivered by Kate Leigh Michalski. Although Michalski is a solid consistent performer accompanied by a titanic voice, this show provides a showplace for her immense talent. She is a blend of Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, and Ethel Merman, along with the physicality of Soupy Sales. She is relentless in her pursuit of the funny, and we are all better for it.
Malik Akil, Mariah Burks, Trey Gilpin, and Codie Higer provide all the other characters to this radioactive tale. They are a scream. Each one of them provides ridiculous characterizations that are a blast to watch. Burks and Higer are a hot mess of fun as thugs. I just keep giggling at these two being hardasses, while displaying every caricature imaginable. Give Akil some tricked out hair, and the attitude that presents itself will definitely make you sashay away to buy another ticket to his show. Gilpin, master of the side eye, is a hoot.
As I stated, I thought the only true downside was the sound. and also, I would have like to have seen a little more of a physicality change in body and voice with the avenger himself. But other than that, this is campy fun. So if you are looking for mindless, campy B-movie realness, THIS IS IT!
~Mariah Burks: Black Chick
*Ellis Dawson III: Melvin Ferd the Third / The Toxic Avenger
^Trey Gilpin: White Dude
*Natalie Green: Sarah
^Codie Higer: White Chick
^Kate Leigh Michalski: Mayor Babs Belgoody / Ma Ferd / Nun
^Sidney Perelman: Understudy Sarah
^Johnathon Jackson: Understudy Black Dude
$28-$30 Reserved Seating
Alma Theatre at Cain Park
14591 Superior Road
Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118