Evil Dead: The Musical at Illusion Theatre
Welcome to the first-ever splatter musical. Oh sure, bloody horror and musical theater have gone together for years—from the likes of Cannibal: The Musical to Carrie (remarkably, not Carrie:The Musical)—but I can't think of one in which the chance of being covered with gore was a selling point. At Evil Dead: The Musical, you can buy one of 14 onstage "splatter seats," where you may find whipped cream flicked into your face or a stream of arterial blood in your lap.
Gallagher-like hijinks aside, Evil Dead: The Musical sits smack in the middle of Minneapolis Musical Theatre's comfort zone. The company specializes in these off-kilter pieces—Jerry Springer: The Opera was a favorite show of a few seasons back—and this one really uses their talents in the best way.
George Reinblatt's book uses the first two of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films for most of the inspiration. It starts with five happy-go-lucky college students on their way to an isolated Tennessee cabin for a week of frolicking on spring break. As it always does in horror films, "isolated cabin" means "cabin of evil and death." The group discovers a cornucopia of weapons, an evil-looking book, and a cassette-tape recorder that, when played, raises evil spirits that will, one by one, kill the coeds and inhabit their corpses as "deadites." Then the plot of the second film kicks in, and things just get weird.
Along the way, there are plenty of comedic musical interludes, crafted by a quartet of songwriters who keep with the tone of the proceedings, from Ash and Scott's straight-up question, "What the Fuck Was That?" to Act Two's standout, "Do the Necronomicon," complete with a dancing line of blood-splattered deadites.
It helps that Sam Raimi's original films have a comedic edge (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Musical would definitely be a harder sell), and that horror film clichés are always ripe for parody. What makes this much more than a Scary Movie edition with songs is the care Reinblatt took with the material. There's a lot of love for the source material here, with sly allusions to the contradictions between the films and the inclusion of favorite moments, such as Ash's "This is my boomstick!" speech from Army of Darkness.
In fact, the only scene that really rings false is the finale, where we find Ash recounting his tale to a bunch of S-Mart shoppers, followed by an attack of deadites. Oh, and a song. That follows the ending of Army of Darkness (well, not the song part) and feels just as tacked on here as it did in the film. Or maybe it was just that the actors are doubling in this scene, meaning they're all still in their zombie makeup trying to play everyday citizens.
Chris Kind sets the tone as Ash, transforming along with his character from a wallflower to a studly, iron-chinned, one-handed action hero. He doesn't much resemble Bruce Campbell, but he manages to project the same B-movie charm. His singing—the performances of the whole cast, in fact—are a treat. Sure, the songs are spoofs from beginning to end, but his Act Two standout, "It's Time," is as well written and well performed as most big-budget call-to-arms songs.
The cast is required to stay over the top from beginning to end, which they pull off with only a few hitches, such as Derek Prestly's Scott-by-way-of-The-Situation, which comes off more mean-spirited than goofy (he's great as the dying and dead version of the character, however). Standing out from the rest of the cast are Christine Karki as Annie, the archeologist who may have a solution to their living-dead problems, and Ryan Grimes as Jake, a local who gets dragged into the proceedings. Both breathe life into one-note characters through their comedic timing and singing.
The set and staging are also stars, and they are loaded with special effects, from a singing moose head to routines with a dismembered head and hand. That brings us back to the splatter seats. Their very existence brought a delightful tension to the whole evening—when, and how, would they be used? I'm sure it was stronger for those actually behind the plastic partition, but even in the main house you could feel that tension, the tension that makes so much scary material sing.
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