Jacksonville Beach’s Players by the Sea opened the cult classic “The Toxic Avenger” on October 25, 2019, which runs through November 10, 2019. The theatre is located at 106 6th Street North in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. For reservations call 904-249-0289 or visit playersbythesea.org.
This classic has its beginnings in a non-musical film released in 1984. Three sequels followed; none were hits. However, the story found a receptive audience as a musical, which made it to New York in 2009, and received the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best New Off-Broadway Musical. The work was crafted by Joe DiPietro (lyrics) and David Bryan (music). The artists, who collaborated on “Memphis” (four Tonys), are well-known to theatre-goers. DiPietro has written a number of musicals, which include the popular “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” while Bryan is famous as Bon Jovi’s keyboard player.
“The Toxic Avenger” is a timely rock musical that will knock your socks off. Players by the Sea’s production was expertly directed by Daniel Dungan who also designed the lighting and what must have been a challenging two-story set. His name may be familiar to you, as he is also the light designer for the Alhambra Theatre.
The play opens with “Who Will Save New Jersey?” and has the entire energetic cast (of five) singing and dancing. You will know that you are in for a fantastic evening with outstanding vocals as you learn that Tromaville, their hometown, has become a dumping ground for toxic waste, and they are powerless to change things (sound familiar)?
The first character we get to know is the nerdish Melvin, portrayed by Cole Marshall, who is employed by the city as an engineer. Notably, he has limited social skills and he is passionate about the environment and has a plan (sort of) to stop the pollution.
Melvin’s love interest is Sarah, a city librarian, who is beautiful, blind, and very independent. She has a unique technique for shelving a returned book: she uses touch to find a vacant spot and fills it with the book. She is portrayed by Alexandra Blackwell, who has a marvelous voice and stage presence, in her Players’ debut. She is a Florida State University graduate, and is the new Marketing & Communications Manager of Players by the Sea. You can expect to see more of her work in future musicals.
Ilana Gould portrays two characters: The hard-nosed sometimes in-your-face Mayor of Tromaville, and Ma Ferd, Melvin’s country-fried mother. Ms. Gould was the award-winning poished lead in Theatre Jacksonville’s “Hairspray;” she auditioned afterword for the part in a Broadway production.
The program lists Clayton Ridley as Black Dude and Chris Berry as White Dude. These are demanding roles: both portray multiple characters which include men, women, thugs, policemen and more. Both have twelve costume changes, and have clearly mastered the split-second timing required for farce.
Ridley, who teaches musical education and performance at KIPP VOICE Elementary School has been in a number of local musicals. Berry, who is relatively new to the local theatre scene, appeared as Eddie in “Wild Party” at Players, and Monty in “Violet” at ABET.
The show revolves around Melvin’s transformation to superhero Toxie after being tossed into a vat of toxic waste by two bad guys and emerging with green disfigured skin and a dislocated left eye. While he looks like a damaged Shrek, he continues his pursuit of those responsible for the contamination and the corruption that made it possible and his courtship of Sarah. Marshall has a strong voice and handles this role well; his transformation from a somewhat timid civil servant to a righteously raging reformer is believable. (Well, almost believable; we need to remind ourselves from time to time that the story IS fiction).
Rather than go into the plot, we will note that it does include violence and some song titles. They include “Hot Toxic Love,“ “The Legend of the Toxic Avenger,” “Evil is Hot,” “All Men Are Freaks” “Bitch/…” and “A Brand New Day in New Jersey.” ADVISORY: Leave the kids at home.
Thomas Toomy was the prosthetics designer. Lisa Fleming created the many costumes, and was also backstage to help with the quick changes. Fleming will be making her stage debut in December as Mrs. Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol” at Players. Gayle Featheringill Gayle Featheringill was the Stage Manager.
Sound design was the work of Chinua Richardson. Stephanie Riner created the frenetic choreography; Anthony Felton was the Music Director. The Production Manager was Jereme Raickett
Check out the art in the gallery, which features fantasy scenes painted by Drew Hunter, who is VP of Creative Design at Sally Dark Rides in Jacksonville.
Being Rocky Horror Show fans, we have been hoping for a challenge to that popular show; Rocky fans will love this one. Staging is in the Studio Theatre which has limited seating, so call for your tickets as soon as possible.