Mad Mel at the Midtown International Theatre Festival
Some of us grew up on the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Written by Richard O’Brien, who also played the character of Riff Raff, the musical was campy, raunchy, and had a standout performance or two that made the whole thing the price of the popcorn. Even without the famous audience participation that evolved over time, RHPS holds a place in the hearts of many a weird kid from the suburbs. But as a film it really can’t be compared and contrasted to other films. The rules don’t apply. The camp factor makes it tonally dissimilar to other filmed musicals.
On Tuesday, I was in the audience for a musical comedy called “Mad Mel Saves the World”, and Rocky Horror was uppermost in my mind, although it did remind me a bit of Rankin Bass’ “Mad Monster Party” or even 2009’s “Toxic Avenger.”
Like Rocky Horror, Mad Mel is just meant to be a bit of fun. The premise is that Mel, played with a certain goofy charm by Slovenian actor Michael Green, is a half-human hybrid who has accidentally killed the dictator of a distant authoritarian world, and now wants to make it a two-fer by overthrowing his brother, Chancellor Jony (Mary Chesterman), who is really a sister and sometimes disguises herself as a cleaning lady just for yuks. Helping him with his not-all-that-nefarious plan is Lady Vesselika, played with evil glee by the talented April Armstrong.
The rules for musicals usually go something like this – the lyrics of the songs serve to advance the plot, the musical styles tend to be somewhat consistent with each other, and if you want to understand what’s going on, you follow the love story. There is often an “I want” song in the first act to kick the story into gear. None of these rules seem to have been paid much attention when Mad Mel was put together, but that didn’t seem to bother anyone in the cast or in the audience much.
A good example of trying to wedge story information into a song is a long number in the first half about Mel picking out his special dress to wear to a function (yes, half-aliens in the future seem to wear a lot of chiffon, and accessorize with your Mom’s earrings from 1976). The mannequins all come to life and do a bit of choreography, all to help Mel get dressed. Also helping Mel get dressed is Roni (Sage Melcher), the love interest. It’s quite a ways into the show, and we haven’t seen or heard much about Roni, so we’re waiting for a few tidbits. But the exposition isn’t really woven into the lyrics – rather, the song pauses for a bit of dialogue, the audience registers the information, and then the song continues.
The musical styles are very mixed in Mel – there is a bit of jazz here, a bit of Europop there, and even some rap. One of the songs was actually written by one of the cast members, a sweet ballad called “Galaxy” sung by its composer, the abovementioned Melcher. I have to say that though there were other cast members giving the show their all, Sage Melcher was a standout, and I can say I’m looking forward to seeing more of her. Her singing voice is more Spotify than it is Broadway; more Lourde than Menzel, and that’s a great thing in this case. When her album comes out, I’ll definitely buy it. I’m also looking very much forward to the next time I see Nicholas DeSibio, who played “Grem”, father of Roni and owner of the nightclub in which a good few of the numbers were set.
In the end, as you can imagine, Mad Mel does manage to save the world, defeating the alien overlords, taking song and dance breaks and even shots at Donald Trump along the way. Not everything makes sense but, as I said, not everything has to, and like Rocky Horror, this show provides a bit of respite from the more serious issues we have to deal with in our outside lives.