Five college students on their way to an abandoned cabin in the woods. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, there’s an ancient book of the dead bound in human flesh and a recording of some creepy Latin, and — oh, yeah — demon possession. Sounds like the beginning of a great horror flick. Welcome to Evil Dead: The Musical, now playing at the Station Theatre. With book and lyrics by George Reinblatt, music by Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris, and George Reinblatt, Evil Dead is a night of corny horror flick send-ups and fun musical numbers. The show is adapted from director Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise, which includes the original 1981 Evil Dead and its two sequels. The Evil Dead films combined comedy and slapstick with gore and blood, and quickly became cult classics, catapulting the careers of both Raimi and the films’ star, Bruce Campbell.
The musical version originated in Toronto in 2003 and quickly garnered its own cult following, eventually gaining widespread recognition when the New York Times dubbed a 2006 off-Broadway production, “the next Rocky Horror.” The musical adapts characters and plotlines from both Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, and only hints at the tone of the third installment, Army of Darkness. Paying homage to the flicks’ irreverent nature, Evil Dead: The Musical is all camp and even more blood. Yes, this is the only musical with a designated “splatter zone;” and yes, you will be sprayed with blood if you sit there.
As mentioned previously, the show opens with our five college students — the hero Ash (the charming Michael Steen), his girlfriend Linda (Madeline Knight-Dixon, a contributor to Smile Politely), his annoyingly precocious sister, Cheryl (the wisecracking Laura Anne Welle), his libidinous friend Scott (Christopher Brown), and Scott’s ditzy girlfriend, Shelly (Ellen Fred) — on their way to a secluded cabin in the woods. They accidentally summon an ancient Evil that possesses them one by one. Luckily, S-Mart housewares employee Ash (Steen) is there to save the day with his iconic hand chainsaw and trusty “boomstick,” a top of the line 12-gauge double-barreled Remington. Steen seems born to play Ash, as he channels Bruce Campbell swagger and mannerisms, all while making the role his own. Steen, a veteran actor in C-U, is always strong vocally, and he does not disappoint here. In fact, Director Mikel L. Matthews Jr. has assembled a strong cast of talented singer-actors who fully embrace the corny appeal of the musical. Knight-Dixon and Welle are particularly strong vocally; Fred portrays the stereotypical dumb sexpot to hilarious effect; and Brown steals the show with every lascivious pun (he also demonstrates that zombies, in fact, can dance remarkably well). Finally, J. Malia Andrus, Aaron Clark, and Mark Fox round out the cast.
The cast is supported by an excellent four-piece band led by Tommy Howie. The score itself is a clever pastiche of several musical styles — including country, rock, pop, 50s doo-wop — and hints at several other musicals. “Do the Necronomicon,” the hilarious zombie dance number (choreographed by Whitney Havice), even cheekily acknowledges The Rocky Horror Picture Show, stating, “It’s just like the Time Warp, only better.” Under the watchful eye of Musical Director Aaron Kaplan, the cast and band execute the score well. Oftentimes, in many rock/pop musicals, a non-amplified cast is overwhelmed by the band, but that was not the case in Evil Dead.
A special mention must go to Matthews’ production team and technical crew, as the show requires quite a lot of coordination between its set design, properties, and costumes — not to mention the clean-up that occurs at intermission and after the show each night. Brad O’Neill’s distressed cabin set design appears innocuous at first glance, but actually conceals many “tricks” that will be used throughout the show. The musical really profits from the work of the Properties team (Niccole Powers, Shara Keen, and Kate Grueneberg) who have procured fake heads, exposed intestines, weapons that stream blood, blood, blood, and more blood (did I mention the blood?), which create a gore-ific, yet fun, atmosphere that hearkens back to the cult films.
Evil Dead: The Musical is an in-your-face homage to the horror genre, but you need not be a fan of the original movies to enjoy this tongue-in-cheek musical. Fans of the Raimi franchise will get special enjoyment from certain lines and poses taken directly from the films, but even those who are not fans of the horror genre will find themselves laughing along with the musical’s absurdity. Those who want to experience all that Evil Dead has to offer, may wish to sit in the splatter section, which is clearly marked by plastic sheeting. If you so choose, you can ask for a plastic poncho, but apparently half of the fun is in getting sprayed with the stuff so you can feel like you were truly a part of the show — well, until the blood washes off.
Evil Dead: The Musical is not for everyone. As is the case with most horror films, strong language and violence warnings apply. The show continues this Wednesday, July 3, through Saturday, July 13, with Monday and Tuesday off for good behavior. Call (217) 384-4000 for reservations, or visit the Station website.
Photos by Sean O'Connor.