EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL

Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on November 3, 2006, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.


While fans of Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead were busy speculating this year on whether a mooted modern remake could possibly live up to the low-budget intensity of the 1983 film, this writer was nursing similar questions about Evil Dead: The Musical. Having seen and loved the show’s early Canadian incarnation in a Montreal cabaret setting two years ago, I couldn’t help wondering: Would the transition to a bigger off-Broadway venue subvert the homegrown charms of that previous small-scaled production?

The answer, happily, is not a bit. Manhattan’s New World Stages at 340 West 50th Street, where Evil Dead: The Musical recently began its open-ended run, provides a setting that’s more expansive than the previous locale but not so large that it dwarfs the human-scale slapstick and splatstick at the heart of the show. And Tony Award winner Hinton Battle, joining the original creative team as choreographer, takes advantage of the extra space to whip up more elaborate dance numbers. Otherwise, not much has changed (Montreal star Ryan Ward even encores as the hapless/heroic Ash), nor did it need to; Evil Dead: The Musical remains a gut-busting treat, bursting with cleverness, energy and a whole lot of stage blood.

The simplicity of the plotlines of Evil Dead and Evil Dead II (which have been combined in George Reinblatt’s book, along with choice lines from Army of Darkness) was both a minus and a plus for this adaptation. While they left a lot to be fleshed out for a full two-act show, their basic nature left Reinblatt a lot of room to move around and give the characters their own fresh quirks. The first song, “Cabin in the Woods,” even points up how iconic the essential story elements were (well before the Evil Dead films utilized them, in fact) before Ash and his four pals arrive at that location, where they’re doomed to raise and be attacked by the bloodthirsty spirits of that ancient book of evil spells, the Necronomicon. Ward, Jennifer Byrne, Brandon Wardell, Jenna Coker and Renée Klapmeyer bring plenty of spirit to their roles, but the characters really come to life once they die and come back as possessed ghouls (wearing nifty slip-on makeups by TV/stage veteran Louis Zakarian that allow for maximum expressiveness).

In particular, Coker’s dead-ified Cheryl is a hoot as she’s “confined” to a cellar, from which she repeatedly pops up like an actor on the old TV show Laugh-In to deliver wisecracks and deliberately awful one-liners. As Act Two rolls around, the ensemble from Evil Dead II arrives—minus the character of Bobbie Jo, whose presence, as country boy Jake (Darryl Winslow) helpfully points out, would have been “redundant” under these circumstances. That’s one of many ways Evil Dead: The Musical winks at the audience’s knowledge of the franchise, but you don’t have to be a fan of the films to enjoy Reinblatt’s funny dialogue and song lyrics (with music by Reinblatt, Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond and Melissa Morris that takes off from a variety of influences), the inventive staging by co-directors Bond and Battle and the performances, headed by Ward’s well-honed interpretation of Ash. Bearing a certain resemblance to original Evil Dead-era Bruce Campbell, he attacks the role with just the right combination of mock-macho posturing as he battles evil and ironic detachment as he comments on certain inconsistencies and implausibilities that have been carried over from screen to stage.

Special mention should also be made of the cabin set by David Gallo (also a Tony winner), which boasts an endless array of hidden surprises and any number of ports from which the fake blood can stream. And then there’s the red stuff itself, which has an even greater presence in the New York production than it did in Montreal. Up there, the tables closest to the stage were designated the “Blood Zone,” where those seated ran the risk of being hit by errant gore. At the New World Stages, the first few rows are designated the “Splatter Zone,” and it’s not a warning, it’s a promise; you will get crimson on you if you sit there, and if you’re in the front row—as I was when I attended—you’re likely to go home drenched. (Plastic ponchos are handed out during the intermission, but be advised they won’t offer complete protection.) That’s not the only way the show interacts with the audience; the friend sitting next to me was briefly grabbed by the desperate Cheryl just before she got dragged off by the demonic trees.

Not to mention that fans in the crowd will likely be speaking favorite lines of dialogue right along with Ash and the other characters on stage. Evil Dead: The Musical appreciates and celebrates their love of the films, with just the right amount of Campbell snark and the knowledge that a simple homage isn’t enough. The show establishes an identity both intertwined with and separate from the features, and provides a rousingly entertaining good time all its own.

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