EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL review
Here is a review for the EVIL DEAD musical playing on Broadway now that I saw while in New York. A little long in the tooth (kinda like the Scott Deadite in ED2...god what a dork)...Enjoy!
A deliciously deadpan, splat-tastic romp, with a Necronomicon's worth of memorable tunes, Evil Dead: The Musical (Currently playing in New York) is a definite must-see for both die-hard fans of the E.D. series and anyone looking for a hell of a night on Broadway…without the frou-frou theater snobs and $200 ticket prices.
As much as horror fans call themselves "purists", they also tend to succumb to the Industry ploys that recycle well-known properties into endless sequels, remakes (and otherwise) to cash in on fan loyalty. The people behind the “product” seem to enjoy squeezing every last drop of artistic dignity a cult hit or fan favorite to where it nearly becomes an mockery of the original’s impact.
Exhibit A: Freddy Kruger. In 1984 he was considered one of the most frightening characters to burst from the silver screen and into our pop-culture conscience and our nightmares. The public begged for more, and by God, we got it with a slew of sequels--some good, some not so.
Along the way, Freddy's modus operandi morphed from humor-as-menace to humor-as-gimmick, and every subsequent kill in a Nightmare flick was complimented with a clever pun or catchphrase that related to said murder most foul (usually followed by "...bitch" for good measure). This seemed to work well for a while, creatively peaking with Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, which blended the horror and humor with nary a tongue in cheek.
By 1990 however, Freddy's finger-knives were dulled to the nub, with dolls, comics, and despite it's network ties, a decent TV anthology spin-off. So much for the Freddy that haunted our dreams; by Freddy's Dead, everyone's favorite child-molesting serial killer had become the Henry Youngman of Horror, and yet they still keep 'em coming. Why?
BECAUSE WE PAY FOR THEM.
The same can be said for the Evil Dead series, one of the most creative and successful fear franchises in horror history. Created by young Goreteurs-in-Training, Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert with a bull-chinned Bruce Campbell acting as their every guy hero/extreme whipping boy (sorry Johnny Knoxville; "The Chin" was the original Jackass), the series was a fan favorite from the get-go, going from cult classic to full blown franchise, following the wacky and bile-ridden misadventures of Ash as he hacks and slashes (and chainsaws) through "deadites" of all shapes and forms.
The films blended the most extreme horror and gore with a dose of humor and slapstick. Sequel/remake Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1986) peppered in the humor then 1991's Army of Darkness in 1991, had laughs as the primary focus.
Unlike Freddy and other horror icons, Ash was an average nitwit, a bumbling fool stumbling through space and time as he kicked some evil ass, occasionally throwing a memorable quote or two around to keep us guessing when to laugh or scream. "Groovy" is indeed the perfect catchphrase for this series.
But, to the surprise of all involved in the Evil Dead trilogy, what started in 1981 as a quick calling card for the filmmakers (dubbed "Video Nasty" by the UK upon it's mostly banned video release) slowly became a cult phenom, spawning the two sequels, endless comics and videogames, multiple versions of the film on laserdisc and DVD (the best being the "Book of the Dead" editions made to look like the Necronomicon, the cause of all the "evil" in the series) and launching the career of both creators and it's fan-beloved star. With countless new versions of the movies being re-released almost every other year, the comic book series chugging along and a planned remake in the works by Raimi and Tapert themselves, it seems the Evil Dead's spawn will be stealing our geek dollars for years to come, but where will it end?
Now, just when you thought it was safe to scream, "Jump the Shark!", Evil Dead is alive and well...and LIVE as well....as Evil Dead: The Musical!
Ok…before you dismiss this as just another campy cash-cow a la Grease, Footloose and Joe vs. The Volcano: Live on Ice (OK so that last one is a wish, sue me), know that the creators of the musical are also ardent fans of the Ash vs. Deadite mythology, going so far as to reference not just the first film but the entire Evil Dead story, including some choice lines and moments from Army of Darkness ("Good, bad...I'm the guy with the gun") thrown in for a fan's delight. Of course, this being an Evil Dead musical, there is PLENTY of blood, so much so that the first 3-6 rows have been anointed "The Splatter Zone" which allows hardcore Gorehounds to bathe in the on-stage splatter (Gallagher would have been pleased…or pissed).
But what makes Evil Dead: The Musical stand out from the pack of overbaked, Hollywood-to-Broadway adaptations is it's ambitious & earnest attempt at making the storyline entertaining not only for horror fans, but general audiences as well. Using a healthy heaping of pop-culture humor, some well-written songs and some hilariously sick set-pieces that will have you screaming with delight, even if you don’t know what happens if you read the Necronomicon (advice: don't read it, idiot), Evil Dead will make you smile, squirm and tap your feet to the final bloody end.
The basic storyline follows close to the first film's bible: 5 college friends, Ash (Ryan Ward), Lynda (Jennifer Byrne), Scott (Brandon Wardell) Annie (Renee Klapmeyer) and Ash's sister Cheryl (A new and welcome addition to the storyline, played with demonic glee by Jenna Coker) head out to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend of youthful debauchery when they happen upon the Necronomicon (i.e. The Book of the Dead). Our hapless heroes starts reciting some passages, which in turn unleash an evil force that descends upon them, possessing each member and leaving lone survivor Ash to hack and slash his way through a small army of bleeding, frothing, dancing "deadites" to survive the night.
At first the production design and direction is almost on par with a School play or WAAAY Off-Broadway production; crude landscape backdrop, colorful animal cutouts passing by as our heroes travel to the cabin, stark lighting, etc. But once inside, the stage transforms into the atmospheric cabin, complete with iconography reminiscent to the films (the creepy Deer head, the haunted furniture, et al) and a looming sense of danger lurking at every corner (or fruit cellar).
Once the crap hits the chaise lounge, the show, co-directed by Christopher Bond and Hinton Battle (with book and lyrics by George Reinblatt) goes full tilt boogie on your senses and never lets up. Such rousing numbers as "Do The Necronomicon," "Bit Part Demon" and my personal favorite "All The Men In My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons," all evoke a "Rocky Horror" spirit, but are still examples of the clever writing involved and the genuine infectiousness of the songs.
The tone is playful, mischievous and comedic, and each character’s random transformations into the Evil Dead are cleverly executed, using the nooks and crannies of the set to give the "spirit" of Raimi's Gonzo visual style. The musical never slows with its many visual and aural gags, and the audience I attended with ate up every crazy moment, even down to the S-Mart climax, which to some E.D. fans is considered the "Return of the Jedi" ending, not the original intended climax to the series where Ash is transported into an alternate "Deadite" infested future.
Speaking of crazed, Ryan Ward's Ash is a singin', dancin' revelation, even for the hardened Evil Dead fan who will take nothing less than the image of Bruce "The Chin" Campbell in the role that made him famous. Well, fellow Dead fans, as a tried and true Deadite devotee myself, rest those bones easier, because I can attest that Ward, who originated the role in the original Canadian production, takes the essence of Ashley and makes the character his own, yet never deviates too far from the "Groovy" mugging we know and expect from the bumbling hero.
Even when watching Ash pull off some soft-shoe action whilst contemplating chainsawing his lover's head, Ward grounds the performance in Ash's lovelorn misery and simultaneously keeps the warped fun intact (especially in the hilarious "What the F*ck Was That?" number, or when he continuously bellows "Noooooooo!" at every tragic event). The rest of the cast is also wonderfully in on the joke, with some actors even playing multiple roles ("Fake Shemps" if you're a Raimi nerd), but always keeping their tongues firmly sticking out of their cheeks, especially with the addition of Ash's prickly sister who serves as a Greek Chorus...albeit one that lives in the fruit cellar and pops up to give color commentary on the proceedings like a zombified John Madden.
Filled with plenty of moments to make both the Broadway crowd as well as the Horror Geek scream with joy, Evil Dead: The Musical is an adaptation that is worthy to be part of the world created by Raimi and Co., not just a quick franchise cash-in. Hopefully it travels to other cities and would make an AMAZING Vegas show (screw you Cirque Douche Soleil), and if you're looking for something different in your quest for live entertainment, Evil Dead: The Musical puts the "dead" in this raucous live act and could be the heir apparent to "Rocky Horror"...hail to the king, indeed, baby.
For more information, check out evildeadthemusical.com or the myspace page at http://www.myspace.com/evildeadthemusical