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A bloody fun time, from first note to last splash of blood
Black Button Eyes Productions presents
|Evil Dead the Musical|
Review by Lauren Emily Whalen
Parody is a tricky beast and requires appealing to two audiences: those who know the original material and those who don’t.
If last Sunday’s matinee of Evil Dead the Musical was any indication, this parody succeeds. Those familiar with the Sam Raimi cult horror movies guffawed at certain lines, but the general atmosphere was one of hilarity and delight, from the first note to the last splash of blood. (And there were many, many splashes of blood.) Though the musical’s score is a bit all over the place and the book is decidedly imperfect, Black Button Eyes Productions’ storefront revival is pure goofy, gory fun for the diehard fan to the completely unfamiliar.
Ash (Jordan Dell Harris) is a college student and proud employee of S-Mart, who needs a little break. He sets off with his girlfriend Linda (Kirby Gibson), buzzkill sister Cheryl (Caitlin Jackson), best friend Scott (Josh Kemper) and Scott’s bimbo girlfriend Shelly (Stevie Love) for a week of fun in an isolated cabin they’re going to break into. As the excited quintet trills in the opening number, what could possibly go wrong? But when the friends discover a cadre of weapons, a mysterious tome and evil trees that talk, spring break quickly turns…graphic.
George Reinblatt‘s book and lyrics are snarky and snappy, capturing the nutty camp of the films while successfully adapting them for the stage (also a challenge with parody shows). Evil Dead the Musical requires a strong sense of fun as well as a willingness to get dirty, for both cast and audience – one section of the Pride Arts Center Broadway space is christened the “splash zone”, with ponchos for the lucky audience members. You’ll see exactly why in the musical’s second act. Director Ed Rutherford has chosen the ideal place for the gritty reboot: the Broadway is only just bigger than a black box, with actors using every entrance and aisle, sometimes growling in the faces of willing spectators. Rutherford heightens the schlock with every opportunity, using the high energy of his cast to the fullest as they use axes and chainsaws, pop up from doors in the floor and (in the case of Love) rip off clothing to make outfits smaller and smaller. The result is hilariously, and deliberately, sloppy – exactly as Raimi and iconic star Bruce Campbell would want.
The only hiccups in this strong production lie in its writing. While Reinblatt’s book and lyrics are mostly spot-on, there are multiple contemporary references to The Bachelorette, Netflix and CSI: Miami. Though the Amazon Prime series Ash vs. Evil Dead premiered in 2015 and had three seasons, the first Evil Dead film came out in 1981, and the musical appears to be set in that universe. Though the references may seem inconsequential, they take the audience out of the moment – a lot. Only one lands: a winking reference to the Spider-Man films and director Sam Raimi. Also, though the musical’s score is enjoyable, it was penned by four different composers (including Reinblatt) and it shows: the songs are well-performed but lack overall cohesion.
Still, there’s a lot to love about Evil Dead the Musical, especially its ensemble. Harris perfectly embodies the very specific cadence and energy that made Bruce Campbell a cult hero and is adept at maneuvering a fake chainsaw as a hand. Love is perfectly ditzy as literal babe-in-the-woods Shelly and driven, intelligent Annie, whose unlucky father owns the stolen cabin. As Cheryl, the bookworm who’s the first casualty of the diabolical forest, Jackson turns in a bravura performance: rocking her powerful pipes and cracking nasty jokes with wide, crazy eyes. Evil Dead the Musical is spooky silliness at its finest, a must-see for those who like singing, dancing and plenty of stabbing.
|Rating: ??? 1/2|
Evil Dead: The Musical continues through February 16th at the Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $30, and are available by phone (800-838-3006) or online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at BlackButtonEyes.com. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)
Photos by Evan Hanover
Kirby Gibson (Linda), Jordan Dell Harris (Ash), Caitlin Jackson (Cheryl), Josh Kemper (Scott), David Lipschutz (Fake Shemp), Shane Roberie (Jake), Stevie Love (Shelly, Annie), Robert Quintanilla (Ed, Moose)
Oliver Townsend (keyboard, synthesizer, conductor), Henry Altenberg (guitar), Cali Kasten (drums)
behind the scenes
Ed Rutherford (director), Oliver Townsend (music director), Derek Van Barham (choreographer), Jeremiah Barr (scenic, props and puppets design, technical director), Rachel Sypniewski (costume design), Liz Cooper (lighting design), Robert Hornbostel (sound design), Jon Beal (fight choreography, gore consultant), Kai Young (fight choreography), David Lipschutz (assistant director), Christopher Young (assistant choreographer), Melanie Thompson (assistant props design), Alexa Berkowitz (stage manager), Beth Weinstock (assistant stage manager), Evan Hanover (photos)