Dallas — You probably never saw the 1984 campy cult horror flick The Toxic Avenger. In fact, no one really did. Like many cheesy horror B-movies it didn’t land upon initial release, but eventually had a renaissance resulting in sequels, a children’s cartoon, and as of 2009, a hit musical. The Toxic Avenger movie is missing a key component of the horror genre—it’s also a comedy. Perhaps this is why it’s a good fit for a musical. Ridiculously gruesome and unlikely situations go perfectly with singing. The Toxic Avenger was the 2009 Outer Critics Circle Award winner for Best Off-Broadway Musical, and Uptown Players will close its 2016 season with the regional premiere.
Featuring a rock score by the award-winning writing duo behind Memphis, book and lyrics by Broadway veteran Joe DiPietro and music and lyrics by David Bryan, The Toxic Avenger has love story, a superhero plot, corrupt New Jersey politicians and an environmental message.
Dallas native and current New Yorker John Campione returns home after touring with The Bridges of Madison County to play Melvin Ferd the Third-turned-Toxic Avenger. Campione leads a cast that includes Sara Shelby-Martin, Kathryn Porterfield, Walter Lee and Clint Gilbert—who play nearly 30 characters between the two of them. Jeremy Dumont, who directed Uptown’s musical hit last summer, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is back.
John Campione spoke with TheaterJones about coming home to Dallas and starring in the show he’d never heard of. He also picks a favorite color, which is helpful for his spooky alter-ego, The Toxic Avenger.
TheaterJones: I was totally unfamiliar with this musical.
John Campione: I was completely unfamiliar with the show, too! When I became aware that Uptown was doing it and did some research I discovered that not only is it a great rock score by David Bryan, the keyboardist for Bon Jovi, but also a really creative, hilarious, and ultimately heart-stirring love story that teaches us to look past a person's face or skin color or toxic deformities.
I play Melvin Ferd, who ultimately becomes The Toxic Avenger (by strapping myself into a massive rubber suit), and Walter Lee and Clint Gilbert play almost 30 characters between the two of them, often with no more than a few seconds to change and return to the stage. Sara Shelby-Martin has a deliciously crazy duet with herself and Katie Porterfield has to basically look at nothing while on stage as she plays a blind character, so everyone truly has [a] massive obstacle to their character(s).
You are originally from Dallas but have now defected to New York. What’s it like coming home? How does working here differ from New York?
I love Dallas! I love being on my bike around the city, Uptown, Katy Trail, I love catching a show or two at the various great theaters and I definitely hit the Old Monk for fries and a post-rehearsal drink from time to time. I believe Dallas is definitely a viable to place to make a living, as evidenced by those who are and have been doing it for many years.
As with a career in the arts anywhere one has to diversify their work and creative outlets because the various sources of income (theater, film/TV, teaching, commercial, whatever) ebb and flow, but that's not really any different in New York or LA. I just feel my vibe tends to fit better in the fast-paced, car-free life in NYC and I'm more at home there than I've ever been in Dallas, even though I was raised here.
Do you miss us?
I was born and raised in Dallas. I went to school at SMU and worked professionally in the DFW theater scene for about four years before I finally moved to NYC. I could not be more thankful for the extra years in Dallas and the relationships I was able to form within the community here before moving north. It's been a fantastically supportive community and family to come home to when given the opportunity.
What else do we need to know about you?
My favorite color is green, I refuse to pick a favorite song, I love to crack myself up with a good dad joke, and I simply don't know how to take myself too seriously.