Going green: The Toxic Avenger Musical opens in Rochester

The mutant superhero takes over the Lilac City

The Toxic Avenger — better known as Toxie to his friends, and as Melvin Ferd the Third to the bullies who pestered him before he became a goopy green superhero — might be New Jersey’s most famous hero. At the very least, he’s the only fictional hero from the Garden State to have his own musical.

“The Toxic Avenger Musical,” based on the 1980s cult film from Troma Studios, makes its way to the Rochester Opera House from May 5-15. It’s the sort of show that stage manager Emily Potoczak hopes will encourage audiences to let their “freak flag fly,” she says, which should be easy, considering that Toxie is the sort of hero who wears his heart on his sleeve and his eyeball on his cheek.

“The Toxic Avenger” follows Melvin, a hapless janitor who gets tossed into a vat of toxic waste and emerges as a 7-foot-tall green mutant with superhuman strength, a drippy disposition, and some lofty goals: to win the heart of Sarah, Tromaville’s sweet librarian, and save his corrupt, polluted New Jersey town from the forces of evil.

Joshua Paul Moore stars as Toxie, and Nellie Teeling is his love interest, Sarah. There are plenty of complications to the relationship, Teeling says, starting with the fact that Sarah’s blind and doesn’t know Toxie is a mutant monster.

“She falls in love with the Toxic Avenger, and he is kind of this terrible-smelling monster-looking type man. But she doesn’t know that because she can’t see him. She really believes that he is her big French boyfriend and that the reason that he smells so bad is because he’s from France,” says Teeling, laughing.

It’s sort of like the Superman/Clark Kent/Lois Lane love triangle, according to Potoczak, except, you know, in New Jersey, and with toxic waste.

“Sarah only sees — not literally — Melvin Ferd as her nerdy but kind friend with self-esteem issues, and The Toxic Avenger as her hero and hunky savior. In her mind, they’re two separate people until Melvin can find the confidence to share both sides of himself with her in hopes that they’ll stay together, even though he’s a slimy mutant freak,” says Potoczak.

Teeling says the production has borrowed costumes and some special effects from the original off-Broadway production.

“We’ve been walking around backstage and pushing our way past severed limbs and heads, all these bizarre things that we use in the show,” Teeling says.

The way Teeling tells it, the Toxic Avenger’s outfits are the most eye opening.

“He has an eyeball on his cheek, literally. It’s so funny because I have to touch it in a couple of our big romantic love scenes. It smells literally like trash. And she can’t see him, you know, so she really thinks he is handsome,” says Teeling.

Potoczak says they pile on a bit with the trash smell, too.

“Josh won’t actually be made to smell like trash … but since Nellie’s character Sarah is blind, there are a lot of jokes about what smells so bad in her apartment,” she says.

While a colorful parade of characters exists in “Toxic Avenger,” only five actors make up the cast. The Toxic Avenger and Sarah are played by the same actors throughout, but two other actors play dozens of characters between them.

“The two male actors that play a lot of parts — they play my best friends, they play cops, they play professors. They play basically all the other roles in this show,” says Teeling.

One of those actors is John Lathan, who plays a character named simply The Black Dude; Sarah’s best friend, Shinequa; an 8-year-old girl; a police chief; a “CSI Guy,” and various bullies, mobsters, and others — about 15 characters in all. Lathan says the technique of constantly changing characters is based on improv and sketch comedy similar to “Saturday Night Live.”

“This is all a lesson in the willing suspension of disbelief. (The audience) clearly knows (as Shinequa) I’m not a man — they clearly know that I just was playing the chief of police not two minutes ago, and just ran off stage and probably barely got the wig on straight,” Lathan says.

For Potoczak this poses a litany of challenges.

“That means never-ending costume and wig changes. It’ll be a circus for sure! It’s all part of the spirit of the show,” says Potoczak in an email.

Besides the biting plot and creepy costumes, there are plenty of hilarious songs with titles like “Evil Is Hot,” “Thank God She’s Blind,” and “My Big French Boyfriend.” The music was co-written by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, the keyboardist for Bon Jovi.

“Singing is very special to me. It’s sacred for me and it’s fun. It’s uplifting. It can make you boogie, it can make you cry,” Lathan says.

Potoczak says the play balances extremes of love and comedy.

“It’s campy yet raunchy. There are some cheesy moments that are carefully balanced with humor, causing hilarious and sometimes surprising results. The transitions between being genuine and snark are quite seamless,” says Potoczak.

Teeling agrees it’s a funny story with a romantic message.

“It is kind of a love conquers all story, in the sense that they really do end up falling in love, regardless of their obstacles. It just shows that love can be very powerful regardless of what you look like,” says Teeling.

“The Toxic Avenger Musical” runs May 5-15 at The Rochester Opera House, 31 Wakefield St., Rochester. Audience members under 18 must be accompanied by a guardian. Tickets are $18. Visit rochesteroperahouse.com or call 603-335-1992 for performance times and tickets.