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Constantine Returns to Houston, This Time Channeling His Inner Geek

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Only six months after appearing in Rock of Ages at the Hobby, Constantine Maroulis is back in Houston -- this time at the Alley Theatre -- to play the lead role of Melvin Ferd the Third in the musical The Toxic Avenger.

"I play Melvin Ferd. He's an earth scientist who hopes to rid New Jersey of all its pollution and toxic waste. There's a corrupt mayor involved and some goons. They end up throwing him in a vat of toxic goo, and he becomes this seven-foot monster out for vengeance. He's in love with this beautiful and delicate librarian who happens to be blind," Maroulis told Art Attack in a break between rehearsals.

Maroulis said he was approached about doing the show before, but was tied up with the national tour of Rock of Ages after his Tony-nominated Best Actor appearance in the role of the would-be rock star Drew on Broadway. He'd previously worked with director John Rando on The Wedding Singer and knew Toxic Avenger authors Joe DiPietro and Bon Jovi founding member David Bryan -- who also did the Tony Award-winning musical Memphis. Finally everyone's schedules coincided, allowing Maroulis to take on the part. Between rehearsals and performances, he'll spend about two months in Houston this time, he says.

He describes the show as "a love story. It's a wonderful comedy, modern musical. Only five actors perform tons of different roles." But the small cast requirements are balanced by the technical needs of transforming Maroulis into the seven-foot monster.

"I have one of the best special-effects guys in the business working on the show, incredible makeup and designers. They've done a full-body cast of my body and a full head cast of my head and they're designing a very exciting suit."

The only member of the cast who's a holdover from the off-Broadway production is Nancy Opel, a Broadway veteran, most recently seen in Memphis. Opel, who plays Mayor Babs Belgoody, Ma Ferd and the Nun, first did Toxic Avenger off Broadway and, in fact, has done all the versions of it, Maroulis says.

This is not the original musical that audiences saw, Maroulis says. "The show has changed so much. We've added new songs, there's new scenes, there's a completely new design team and new choreography; there never really was choreography before."

As far as understanding his character goes, Maroulis said: "I am a bit of a tree-hugger and that's one of the names the mayor calls Melvin in the show. So I can definitely relate to the sort of inner geek and a bit of the sort of rock star monster [the Toxic Avenger] that he ends up becoming. But underneath it all is this good person who really just wants to do good in the universe and just be in love."

"I think the newest of Broadway audiences are the smartest they've ever been. I think that this is a very smart show. It's very well-crafted. The comedy is first class. Anyone that would love best new shows on Broadway, from Book of Mormon to Rock of Ages, would love this show."

The Alley has a caution on this show, that it's really designed for teens on up -- not younger kids. As Maroulis puts it, with a laugh: "There's a great wholesome quality to this show, but done with a bit of blood and guts."

The Toxic Avenger opens January 20 and runs through February 12 on the Hubbard Stage of the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue. Tickets are available at www.alleytheatre.org or by calling 713-220-5700.

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