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EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL Review: A Breath of Fresh Air (and Blood) For the Chicago Theatre Scene

Turning movies into stage musicals is a quite a trend these days. To be kind, the results have been mixed. Some have been surprise hits while others have fans of the original films wondering why the stage version had to happen. A trilogy of movies about teenagers in a cabin fighting off demons they accidentally summoned is the probably the last thing most musical fans expected to inspire the next show they would see. Great theatre, though, is often unexpected. Broadway in Chicago brings Evil Dead: The Musical to the Broadway Playhouse. The show is directed by Christopher Bond.

Story

Whole scenes from the movies Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, and Army of Darkness are adapted and combined into one narrative by George Reinblatt. Well, there really is only one scene from Army of Darkness, but plenty of that film’s great one-liners are sprinkled throughout the play (i.e. This is my boomstick!). Five teenagers, spending their Spring Break in a cabin, accidentally summon a lot of evil with the Necronomicon. One by one, they are possessed or mutilated by the “Deadites.” Other characters arrive and succumb to the overpowering evil and the leading man, Ash, has to go from being an ordinary department store employee to a chainsaw wielding fighter. Clearly, this is a far cry from anything Rodgers and Hammerstein would have come up with.

It is all entirely tongue-in-cheek and over the top. The overall effect is one of slapstick comedy more than horror. Instead of cream pies and banana peels, you laugh at blood and sharp objects. Along with Ash’s one-liners, there are plenty of in-jokes for fans of the original movies to pick up on.

Staging

Most of the story takes place in a small cabin, and good hard work clearly went into the construction of the cabin setting. For those scenes out in the woods or in S-Mart, 2-dimensional painted backdrops are used and they are not meant to look real. Equally unreal looking are the teens’ car and the bridge they cannot cross after the first scene. These fake looking bits of scenery are obviously meant to be funny and they work, adding even more humor to the sometimes absurd dialogue and song lyrics.

One important part of a story like Evil Dead is the special effects, specifically those scenes of dismemberment. There are times, like when Ash tosses a severed head onto a table and it continues talking, when the almost impossible looks great. Other times the show’s crew must have figured, “If we can’t make it look real, make it look funny.” When a headless body chases Ash around, it does not even come close to looking real but it is hilarious.

Looking real and looking funny come together at the show’s climax when Ash fends off the Deadites with a shotgun and a chainsaw that just will not start. This brings us to a feature of the show the audience should beware of. If you are sitting in Rows A through D of the theatre, you should probably not wear your Sunday best to the show as you are in the Splatter Zone.  With each blast of the shotgun and swipe of the chainsaw, the theatre patrons closest to the stage are showered in blood, either from fountains downstage or from the cast’s open wounds.

Music

With music by Reinblatt, Bond, Frank Cipolla, and Melissa Morris, the audience is treated to a variety of musical numbers. The show opens with a rock n’ roll song, “Cabin in the Woods,” setting the tone for much of the show’s guitar-driven music. Some songs, like “Housewares Employee” and “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons,” have what some would call a typical “Broadway” sound but stand out for humorous lyrics that could only make sense in this show.

“Bit Part Demon” could be Evil Dead’s answer to Chicago’sMr. Cellophane,” while “Do the Necronomicon” dares to claim superiority to The Rocky Horror Show’s Time Warp.” While I choose not to weigh in on that controversy, I will admit that the tango number, “What the F*** was That?” is the one that sticks in my head the most.

Cast

What is probably most important for fans of the Evil Dead movies is the casting of Ash. “Does he look the part?” they will ask, meaning “Does he look like Bruce Campbell?” Rest assured, David Sajewich pulls off the role, strong chin and all. More importantly, he can sing and act.

Callie Johnson deftly plays both Shelly and Annie, two characters who could not be more different from each other, looking and sounding entirely differently in each role. Creg Sclavi is equal parts hilarious and repulsive in the role of Scott. Demi Zaino steals nearly every scene she is in as Cheryl, the innocent younger sister turned pun-loving demon.

How much a cast is actually enjoying the show they are in can make or break their performances. All of the actors in Evil Dead: The Musical are obviously enjoying themselves here and it is catching.

Overall

Evil Dead: The Musical may be the kind of musical Broadway fans never expected, and it might be just what the stage needs. Truly creative individuals can draw inspiration from unexpected sources and create entertainment gold. Years ago, a group of friends with very little money made the first Evil Dead movie. Years later, another group of friends was inspired by them to create this musical in the back room in a bar in Canada.

This show is a comical farce presented in Grand Guignol fashion. It illustrates how great a show can be when talented people really give every effort to delivering the audience exactly what they promise. If theatre goers are worried that there are no more good ideas or that all the good ideas are played out, they need look no further than this show. It succeeds in honoring the original movies it adapts while poking fun at them.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

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Categories: Theater

Author:Jean-Pierre Vidrine

Jean-Pierre Vidrine is a Chicago transplant whose interests include comic books, nostalgia, tattoos, drag, just plain being allowed to be himself. He does his best to be a thoughtful writer.

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  1. Best of 2014 Review Wrap-up: Jean-Pierre | Another Castle - 12/05/2014

    […] comic interpretations of one of my favorite novels, and unexpectedly wrote about more than one stage musical. That is just to mention a few of my works. Choosing a top 5 from all that was not easy. As much I […]

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