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Evil Dead: The Musical

There's plenty to enjoy in this cheesy musical based on Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films, but it's not as funny as its creators apparently think it is.

By New York City
Ryan Ward and Brandon Wardell in Evil Dead: The Musical
(© Carol Rosegg)
Ryan Ward and Brandon Wardell in Evil Dead: The Musical
(© Carol Rosegg)
I would hate to be on the clean-up crew for Evil Dead: The Musical. During each performance, the show must go through gallons of fake blood that gets all over the stage and goes so far as the first few rows of the theater, aptly designated the "splatter zone." The patrons in these seats pay a reduced admission charge and are offered plastic ponchos to wear -- but, on the night I saw the show, many of them eschewed the protection and sported white T-shirts in anticipation of the gore fest. This may prove that there's an audience for a cheesy musical based on Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films. Truth be told, there's plenty to enjoy in the show; but it's not as funny as its creators apparently think it is, and it wears thin at several points.

Featuring book and lyrics by George Reinblatt, with music by Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris, and Reinblatt, the musical is both a parody of and an homage to the Raimi films. It follows the travails of Ash (Ryan Ward), a college student and S-Mart employee who spends spring break at an abandoned cabin in the woods with his girlfriend, Linda (Jennifer Byrne); his sister, Cheryl (Jenna Coker); his best friend, Scott (Brandon Wardell); and Scott's latest fling, Shelly (Renée Klapmeyer).

At the cabin, the group inadvertently unleashes an ancient evil spirit that makes the trees of the forest come alive and begins transforming the hapless young adults into zombies. Added to the mix is a plotline from the second Evil Dead film in which the daughter of the owner's cabin, Annie (Klapmeyer again), arrives on the scene with her boyfriend, Ed (Tom Walker), and local guide Jake (Darryl Winslow). These three are drawn into Ash's battle with a horde of Candarian demons.

If you've seen either film, you're likely to get more enjoyment out of the show than if you have not. There are plenty of in-jokes, as well as a few choice lines imported directly from the screenplays, that have some audience members laughing in recognition. Surprisingly, one of the most notable incidents from the first film, in which Cheryl is raped by the trees, is toned down so much that at least one audience member I spoke to who hadn't seen the movie didn't realize what had happened to her. And yet, coarse sexual jokes run rampant throughout the musical's script. For example, after Ash decapitates one of his companions, he states: "This is not the type of head I was expecting."

Overall, the music is rather disappointing. Though several of the tunes are catchy, even the best of them are derivative. The opening number, "Cabin in the Woods," is a bouncy B-52s-ish tune, while "What the...?" uses a tango rhythm, and "All the Men in My Life" has a very 1950s feel. Reinblatt's lyrics are often quite funny, although musical theater purists will probably lament his frequent use of false rhymes. The show would definitely benefit from some trimming, and the final song, "You Blew that B**** Away," needs to be cut entirely.

Co-directors Hinton Battle and Christopher Bond emphasize that the show is a parody to the point of overkill. The actors perform in a style that makes it very obvious they're commenting on the material, and this dulls some of the humor. Battle, who is also the choreographer, has included some silly bits of business and visual jokes in his musical staging, some of which are quite funny. But the big dance number, "Do the Necronomicon," is a disappointment and goes on way too long.

The technical aspects of the show are impressive. Louis Zakarian's special effects and makeup design are bloody terrific (or terrifically bloody). David Gallo's sets include both cartoonish, two-dimensional backdrops and a lavishly detailed cabin interior. Cynthia Nordstrom's costumes are a treat, particularly her outfits for the trees. Jason Lyons has done a fine job with the lighting, as have Peter Fitzgerald and Kevin Lacy with the sound design, and Michael Laird with the sound effects.

Ward's Ash doesn't quite possess the charisma necessary to help the show take off, although the actor does have a few good moments; he's especially impressive in the first act closer, singing while a stream of stage blood squirts into his open mouth. The vocal standout among the cast is Coker, who uses her dynamic rock voice effectively in "It Won't Let Us Leave" and "Look Who's Evil Now." Unfortunately, her character is saddled with some really lame dialogue for the rest of the show. The remaining cast members do what they can with their roles, but the lack of complexity in the material doesn't give them much to work with.

During the show, the audience is allowed to consume alcohol, which is hawked in the aisles prior to the performance and at intermission. Not only might you get a kick out of purchasing one of the specialty drinks, such as "Evil Dead and Berried," a cocktail may actually enhance your viewing pleasure.


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