PHOTO CREDIT: Aaron Bernakevitch
August 15 – September 8, 2012
Listen to my review from this morning’s Eyeopener at http://www.cbc.ca/eyeopener/columnists/theatre/2012/08/16/theatre-review-evil-dead/
If I were to write a headline for this review it would go something like this:
Theatre Critic Calls For More Blood In Evil Dead The Musical
This is not to say there isn’t blood and gore and lots of campy violence in Hit and Myth’s and the Pumphouse’s production of this slasher spoof show. There is. But if it’s possible not to be disgusting enough, then I’d say this production falls a bit short.
But more on that later. First some background and plot information.
Evil Dead The Musical is based on cult horror film director Sam Rami’s 1980’s classic Evil Dead trilogy. The musical mashes up the film’s plotlines, characters and concepts to come up with a comedic rather than scary premise. So a kind of pastiche with alterations if you will. But never fear horror junkies, the show does use some real lines from the movies that have the fans in the audience madly cheering and shouting out the words along with the actors onstage.
A homegrown creation, Evil Dead the Musical is a Canadian creation that was first performed in Toronto in 2003, moved off-Broadway in 2006 and has since been performed all over the world – including Calgary in 2009 for a 7 week sold out run. By all indications it’s going to be as popular once again as the show was extended another week before it even opened.
As for the story, well anyone who’s ever seen a horror movie will know this plotline by heart. It’s textbook slasher story-telling with the added element of song and dance and intentional as opposed to by-product humour.
The show focuses on a young man named Ash who, along with sister, girlfriend, best friend and a girl his best friend recently picked up at a bar, head up to an abandoned cabin in the woods for spring break vacation. Once up there, they discover an ancient book of the dead, accidentally play an audiotape of demon summoning words and next thing you know they are one at a time being possessed by Demons from Hell. Fortunately for Ash, he’s only bitten on the hand resulting in only his appendage being possessed. I won’t ruin the fun and tell you how he deals with that, but let’s just say he manages to go on to become the ultimate demon slayer, but not without a lot of very campy blood and gore song and dance scenes to get him there.
The songs and choreography go from very witty and smartly executed to obvious and less interesting. Numbers like “What the F** was That?”, “Good Ol’ Reliable Jake”, and “All the Men in My Life” are deliciously spoofy, beautifully staged and for the most part well sung. Unfortunately for many of the other numbers, director Mike Griffin and choreographer Amber Bisonette use brash, in your face sexually explicit moves that, while sure they get the easy laugh, I found took away from the delightfully droll moments in the script.
No to mention that these types of moments fly in the fact of Griffin’s Director Notes in which say that he didn’t want his actors to fall into the easy trap of stereotypical comedy. Rather he wanted them to be real people struggling with strange situations and have the circumstances themselves be the funny part, not the over the top acting. It’s a clever direction to take, and when the cast does it well, they do it very well.
Alyssa Billingsley as Annie the sexy cabin owner does a fabulous turn at playing the doomed but smart character that holds the key to banishing the demons. Added on to her talents are singing pipes that are clear and strong and a joy to listen to. Brent Gill as Jake, the guy in the woods, manages to turn a role that is mainly tasked with swearing and cussing into an unaffected and unforced comedic romp that results in his character getting most of the laughs. Finally Bart Kwiatkowski as Ash, (who is turning into one my favorite musical theatre actors in Calgary. Loved him in Avenue Q and he is just as good in Evil Dead) delivers solid acting, a great singing voice, super physicality on stage as is lots of fun to watch as he goes from straight-laced S Mart employee to unhinged demon killer.
I wish I could say all the other actors could keep up. Amber Bisonette as Linda, Ash’s girlfriend had some off-key moments. Mallory Minerson as Ash’s sister Cheryl and the first one of the group to become demonized, wows us with her voice, but she lost me with her not kooky/sinister enough take on her demon self. Peter Fernandes as Ed/the bit part demon underwhelms in what should have been one of the funniest musical numbers in the show. But it was Eric Wigston as the best friend Scott that really fell flat for me. Relying almost solely on lewd gestures instead of well-timed acting for his laughs and with a thin singing voice throughout most the show, I found him to be the real weak link on stage.
Thankfully the stage itself didn’t suffer from any weaknesses. Designer Peter Higgins gives us a fully realized multi-dimensional cabin that has all sorts of secret possessed areas just waiting to come alive. I understand they had to build the stage up to create a trap door in the floor which is crucial to the show and that worked really nicely as well. It was a little unfortunate that whenever they had to pull the curtain across the stage to change scenes, it made a pretty loud screechy noise that was distracting, but I guess you work with what you got. Bottom line – from a lighting, set, and prop design angle – the show looked great.
Until the blood started flowing. And this is where I come back to my initial headline. One of the main reasons Evil Dead The Musical is so popular is the production’s Splatter Zone seating where audience members get sprayed with blood from the action on stage in the second act. It’s a great concept, but I found the execution quite anticlimactic. I mean we all know its coming. You wait for it the entire show. But instead of gobs of blood being showered on these people, what happens is the recently slain demons hop off the stage and manually squirt blood at people from visible plastic pouches. They then fall and roll on a couple of people and some blood rains down mildly from the ceiling.
Forgive me my blood lust here, but I found the effect to be a bit amateurish and low rent. I wanted to see a tidal wave of blood hit the audience. I wanted drama. In all fairness, the audience seemed pleased enough and I wasn’t sitting in the splatter seats so maybe people were relieved that they weren’t getting overwhelmed by too much fake blood
But even with everything I can find fault with, I can’t say I didn’t’ enjoy the show. Let’s be honest, Evil Dead The Musical isn’t going to win a Pulitzer Prize – it is what it is – a spoofy foul-mouthed sexually suggestive musical send up of horror movies. If you are a fan of slasher movies, you’ll have a grand time. The hard-core horror fans in the audience were cheering their hearts out.
From a theatre point of view, the first act was a bit clunky in direction, things didn’t flow as smoothly as they should have and the narrative was a bit jerky and forced in places. But the second act is lots of fun, has much smarter dialogue and some really well choreographed song and dance numbers that are wonderfully campy. And no, you don’t need to have seen the original Evil Dead movies to get this play. The whole thing is a fun, silly not taking itself too seriously night in the theatre. And I’m just fine with that.
For the guys – It’s a send up of every horror movie you ever watched with funny songs and lots of swearing. Need I say more? SEE IT
For the girls – Sure it’s bloody and gory, but it’s done as comedy and not grotesquely so. If you are up for a horror spoof, this one is it. MAYBE SEE IT
For the occasional theatre goer – Most of the people I spoke to in the audience were not regular theatre goers. They either came out because they love the movies or they heard the show is fun. Either way, it’s a high energy funny night in the theatre if you don’t mind the subject matter. MAYBE SEE IT
For the theatre junkie – I don’t think this is a must see for your theatrical cannon, but it is a nice break from the heavier or less spoofy stuff you are used to seeing. MAYBE SEE IT