Story: It’s springtime, and S Mart employee Ash has the perfect place selected for some off-campus hijinks. It’s a desolate cabin in the woods, hard to access and far removed from any bothersome neighbors. So, what could go wrong, right? He rounds up his girlfriend and S Mart colleague Linda, lovelorn sister Cheryl, wise-cracking best friend Scott and Scott’s new-found, trampy squeeze Shelly for a raucous romp in the hinterlands.
Unfortunately for Ash and company, he’s selected an abode where a professor has hidden a book that can summon nasty demons with a penchant for wrecking a good time. Pretty soon, ‘possession’ is nine-tenths of the law at the cabin, and Ash finds himself battling his demonized friends, sawing off heads and limbs with copious flowing of blood as an unfortunate consequence.
All may not be lost, though. Annie, intrepid daughter of the missing professor, shows up with her timid boyfriend Ed and a dim-witted local resident in the hope of finding that deadly book and restoring order to the murderous chaos. A long shot, perhaps, but still hope for the desperate Ash amid the zombie ruins.
Highlights: Stray Dog Theatre unleashed its original version of this goofy musical in 2010 with big box-office results. It was such a hit that artistic director Gary Bell and director Justin Been have returned to the blood-soaked scene of the comedy crimes with a four-week engagement that sold out its first weekend.
Inspired by a trio of campy horror flicks directed by cult icon Sam Raimi, Evil Dead: The Musical has been a fan favorite since it first lampooned in 2003 in the back room of a small Toronto bar. It features a book and lyrics by George Reinblatt, music by Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris and Reinblatt, music supervision by Cipolla, with extra lyrics by Bond and additional music by Rob Daleman.
Obviously, that’s a bunch o’ cooks in the creative kitchen, but their kindred fondness for quirky mayhem is well received by devotees of Raimi’s film fusion of gore and guffaws. While the second go-around at Stray Dog has as much energy and deliberate scene-chewing as the initial rendition, I must admit that two visits with Ash and his unfortunate pals may be one too many for me.
In any event, Been elicits roars of approval from his receptive audience with a cast that is completely reinvented for this return engagement apart from Anna Skidis reprising her role as the ill-fated Cheryl. It’s a wise decision by Been to bring Skidis back, ‘cuz she is a smooth and savvy performer who delivers her lines as much with physical gestures and manic, melodramatic exaggeration as with her brash dialogue.
Paul Cereghino showcases his own comic cleverness as our unswerving hero Ash. You have to ‘hand’ it to Cereghino when he battles to the death with his own severed appendage, which becomes The Hand That Knew Too Much once separated from the good guy.
That and myriad other gizmos on stage, such as a talking moose head and wall decorations that bob and weave when the spirit strikes them, are the clever contributions of property designers Been, Bell and Jay Hall. The set, which includes a cantankerous trap door and carefully placed openings in the kitchen counter for Linda’s ‘talking head’ session with Ash, are courtesy of scenic designer Nathan Marshall and beautifully lit by Taylor Duenow, especially on the zombie dances.
Eileen Engel is properly sweet or sassy as the pre-possessed Linda or her alter ego, respectively, while Brittany Kohl as Annie brings swagger and a little extra romance for Ash to the scene once Linda and Ed have gone to the dark side. C.E. Fifer ups the action ante as the obnoxious and obtuse Scott, and Angela Bubash is lots of fun as vapid party girl Shelly.
Also providing laughs are Michael Wells as Ed, who does his own Mr. Cellophane impression on the wry number, Bit-Part Demon, and Jeff Loeffler as the lumbering spirit of dear departed Professor Knowby. It’s Zachary Stefaniak, though, as evolutionary throwback Jake, who commands the lion’s share of laughs in the second act, a combination of his wide-eyed portrayal and the slovenly bib overalls outfitted for him by costume designer Alexandra Scibetta Quigley, who adds other nice touches such as Ash's preppie look and Annie's archeology attire.
There are high-energy numbers such as What the F### Was That?, humorous ballads like Housewares Employee and the fitfully funny Do the Necronomicon, complete with the latest zombie ‘killer’ dance floor moves thanks to Jamie Lynn Marble’s inspired choreography. Sarah Castelli’s ghoulish makeup is a show highlight, as is the jaunty musical accompaniment furnished by music director Chris Peters, percussionist Bob McMahon and Adam Rugo playing both electric guitar and banjo.
Judging by audience reaction on opening night, Evil Dead: The Musical just won’t die a natural death. Party on, zombies!
Musical: Evil Dead: The Musical
Company: Stray Dog Theatre
Venue: Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue
Dates: October 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26, 30, 31, November 1, 2
Tickets: $18-$20, plus $35 for “Splatter Zone” seats that include exclusive T-shirt; contact 865-1995 or www.StrayDogTheatre.org.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb