By: Mackenzie Lambert
It was 27 years ago when audiences were first thrust into the absurd horrors of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. Since then, it was followed by two sequels, each one crazier than the previous. There have been video games and comic books (one pairing Ash with Herbert West of Re-Animator). Now, there’s the musical, which first started in 2004 at the Just for Laughs Festival in Toronto. If you can get past the many creative liberties the musical takes, you will find it to be quite an entertaining, no-holds-barred gem.
I must first express the initial transgressions I found, which I don’t hold against the show. There was no Possessed Henrietta (originally played with enthusiasm in Evil Dead 2 by Sam Raimi’s brother, Ted). Jacque Austin’s turn as the character of Scott (the true hero of the first Evil Dead who was originally depicted by Richard “Hal Delrich” DeManincor) was played as an obnoxious frat-boy who I found uninteresting until his inevitable possession, when he finally becomes a fun character. Of course, there was also that Michael Jackson jacket gag, which was barely funny the first time in Return of the Living Dead II.
But, the one problem I had with the production was Maria Droz’s characterization of Cheryl (originally played by Ellen Sandweiss). It was too much of a change from the reclusive, quiet demeanor of the original character, In this piece Cheryl is a weird woman/child. Yet, Cheryl goes on to be one of the most memorable characters in the whole musical.
Despite these negatives, they didn’t stay with me. Eventually, the production grew on me. The subtle touches added to the charm that drew me in. Take, for example, a well-placed inclusion of Campbell’s novel, Make Love: The Bruce Campbell Way. Or a possessed moose head as a great side-gag. The opening monologue utilizes the intro from Evil Dead 2, word for word. The small venue of the Alt Theatre adds the sense of claustrophobia often associated with the first two movies. Adam Kreutinger as Headless Linda was the biggest laugh of the evening. Chris Andreana as Jake channeled Danny Hicks perfectly. Had I not known that Jenny Kuliwicki (kudos!) played BOTH Shelly and Anne, I would have guessed two different actresses played the parts.
I have to give extra credit to Casey Denton. He had the unenviable task of playing Ash. It was a potential double-edged sword. He could either try to play it exactly as Bruce Campbell or play the role in a manner that would turn diehards off. I think he pulled off a good balance of himself and Campbell. He had his own macho delivery as well as the signature swagger of Campbell’s iconic role.
The musical numbers were hit-or-miss. The two that stood out to me were “It Won’t Let Us Leave”, delivered in a Shatner-style that was hysterical, and “Look Who’s Evil Now”, a jazzy number with female powerhouse delivery. Most of the other songs were good, but these two were great. Credit goes to George Reinblatt for his lyrical work.
My overall reaction to Evil Dead: The Musical can be summed up with the famous laughing scene from Evil Dead 2, but played in reverse. I started out almost wanting to cry, but the more I watched, the more I liked it and eventually loved it enough to recommend it. Musicals, like any other form of adaptation, are essentially another species. They have similar characteristics, but a different makeup. Once I came to this realization, I had a bloody blast.
Evil Dead: The Musical plays through Halloween at the Alt Theatre.
Note to Parents: There is some serious gore and sexual content within this production. The program specifically states that no children under the age of 15 are admitted and patrons (ages 16 & 17) must be accompanied by a parent. After arriving early, I overheard a phone conversation with the caller asking if there were special ticket prices for bringing an 11 year-old. I just had to shake my head and contemplate the famous words of Pantera: “Is there no standard anymore?”
Mackenzie Lambert is a Buffalo-based columnist. He has been
featured in such publications as Penny Blood and Pantechnicon. He is
also a movie columnist for The Men’s Room Today (www.themensroomtoday.com).