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Guest Review: Evil Dead The Musical @ The Pumphouse

I am pleased to introduce guest blogger Luigi Scazzari, with whom I attended Hit & Myth/Pumphouse Theatre’s co-production of Evil Dead The Musical on Friday along with four other members of the Calgary Musicals+ Meetup Group. Luigi is an Italian in Calgary on a work-holiday visa and we met through the group. He graciously agreed to write this week’s review, which includes a synopsis of the plot and the titles of the songs (in italics). I’ve added my comments at the end.

It’s pretty common for movies to be adapted into plays, especially these days. For the most part, however, the horror genre has been pretty well untouched except for the classics such as Frankenstein, Dracula and a few others. Luckily there are genuine horror fans even among musical theatre writers and it’s thanks to some Canadian ones (George Reinblatt (Book and Lyrics), and Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, and Melissa Morris (music)), that “Evil Dead” was adapted into a musical, having been first produced in Toronto in 2003. For those of you aren’t horror fans like me, “Evil Dead” is a movie trilogy that spans from 1981 to 1992, directed by Sam Raimi – yes, indeed, the director of Spiderman. Why are the “Evil Dead”  movies so beloved by zombie addicts? The reason is pretty simple. It’s because they are, in my humble opinion, the best fusion of horror and comedy to date.

After the necessary introduction, let’s talk a bit of the play…

Act One

The plot is pretty simple, as in every classic horror movie.  Five friends decide to spend the Spring break in a cabin in the woods where the owner never goes. Should our happy characters be worried that there is only one bridge leading to the cabin? Or by the mysterious absence of the cabin’s owner? And what about that ghoulish book, the Necronomicon, seen during the introduction? What the heck! There is nothing to worry about, as in 100% of horror movies,  everything will be perfectly fine.

By the way, who are those guys? We find Ash (Bart Kwiatkowski, recently seen in Avenue Q), an S-mart housewares employee, and his co-worker and girlfriend Linda (Amber Bissonette, also the choreographer). Then there’s Ash’s best friend Scott (Eric Wigston, recently seen in Jeremy de Bergerac), and Shelly (Alyssa Billingsley), a not-so-smart girl he picked up a few days previously. Finally there’s Cheryl (Mallory Minerson), Ash’s not-so-glamorous little sister.  What can these happy friends do for killing the time together, as it were? The most obvious thing to do – listen to the tape-recorder found in the spooky cellar. Alas, there’s no music, it’s just a log of the cabin owner, a professor trying to translate the Necronomicon. Scary words coming from the tape, aren’t they? And why all of a sudden are there voices that can be heard all around?

Definitely the best thing to do in such a situation is to go out in the woods all alone to check it out. Come on, Cheryl, didn’t your mother teach you common sense? Nope, it’s horror, and the characters are not supposed to be sensible. Sadly enough, Cheryl has a very close encounter with the trees in the woods and she realizes that it won’t let us leave. Who is it? Well, better not to pay attention to that stupid b***h and do as she asks and take her to a motel. But wait! The bridge is crumbled (surprise!), and now they don’t have an escape. And look who’s evil now!  Yes, it’s Cheryl – turned into a zombie, also known, for reasons unexplained, as a Candarian Demon! And that’s just the beginning…

Animated trees? Demons? Zombies? Looking for logic? Forget about it. Better to shoot a hot load in the belly of hottie Shelly. Twice. What the f*** is that?  A demon – I’ve said that – but in horror movies not every character is willing to accept the new reality, least of all Scott. And it’s only a matter of time before Linda succumbs as well. With all his friends dead, poor Ash is alone and he has a hard time trying to resist the calling. Join us say the demons. After all, his hand has already accepted the offer, having been bitten by a talking moose (Kelsey Flower). What should our hero do, in such a case? Chop off his traitor hand with a chainsaw, of course! Let the splatter begin!

Little does Ash know that help is on the way in the form of Annie, the professor’s daughter (Alyssa Billingsley), and her not-very-talkative boyfriend Ed (Peter Fernandes) guided by good ol’ reliable Jake (Brent Gill) – maybe because he is a close friend of Sam Raimi? She has just found the last few important pages to the Necronomicon and heads for the cabin to complete the translation with her father. Hopefully they won’t be shocked by what they’ll find in the cabin. As Ash says to himself in the final scene, I’m not a killer, I just have to saw Linda’s demon head in half… (more splatter).

Act Two

The new members of this drama reach the cabin just as Ash finishes sawing (and the reprise of the previous song). Of course they’re shocked, but Annie feels she can trust Ash – even if, from the looks of things, he might just have killed all his friends and her father. Love is stronger than common sense – especially in horror movies. She trusts Ash even more when Ed is turned into a demon and Ash shows no fear. Poor guy, Ed had hoped to be a main villain but he is just a bit part demon [kind of like Mr. Cellophane in the musical Chicago LMC].  No way the leading man is going to be killed by him, and Ash knows it!  Poor Annie too. It seems that, as she says, all the men in my life are killed by Candarian demons – potentially a bad omen for Ash and Jake. Ash isn’t afraid – he’s still the hero, and the hero can’t die, just yet. Jake, not being the hero and knowing it, wisely enough he decides to flee before it’s too late. But it’s still night out there in the woods, and the demons are waiting. Better to have some help from friends. What happens if those friends have poor aim? Well, let’s sing an ode to an accidental stabbing.

It’s now up to Ash and Annie (whose outfit has a bizarre habit of  tearing off in bits and pieces)  to figure out how to escape this madness. Luckily Annie can read the pages of the Necronomicon, so she’ll first read the page for a celebration of the cursed book. Then she’ll read a spell to drive all the demons in a distant time and space. It sounds like a plan! So let’s do the Necronomicon all together, a dance number with more than just a little sexual content.  After all this fun, it’s time to escape or to die. Annie is stabbed by Ash’s disembodied hand, and a rage-fueled Ash slashes every demon in sight, but what’s the use when they inform him we will never die.  Is this the end? Of course not. With her last breath Annie casts the second spell and the demons are dispelled, along with Ash – but that one is another story Ash tells to the S-mart incredulous customers after the fact. Skeptical at first, they are more willing to believe him after one of the customers turns into a zombie and Ash shows them his stuff when he blew that b**** away.

In conclusion I can honestly say I enjoyed Evil Dead The Musical. I didn’t have great expectations but it was really hilarious and well written – a homage from horror fans to a horror masterpiece.

Pros: Mallory Minerson as Cheryl.  She is the Vocal Captain and she deserves it. Set (David Gallo) and costume designs(Deitra Kalyn), very well done. The tango danced by Ash and Scott and the disembowelled Scott’s prolonged death scene during what the f*** was that (yes, you can buy the T-shirt along with foam chainsaws and other assorted memorabilia) – probably the most hilarious part of the show. The stage hands in full black stocking-like costumes at the very beginning of the play – also very funny.

Cons:  Theatre location, not so easy to reach, especially without a car  [not so easy with a car either – I’ve missed that entrance off Bow Trail more than once the first few times I tried to find it. LMC]. Some technical issues like microphones and noisy pulleys and errors in singing by main characters. Blood – it wasn’t enough!!!

Score: 7.5/10

Hit & Myth and Pumphouse Theatre’s “Evil Dead The Musical”  plays at Pumphouse Theatre until September 8th (extended by popular demand). Tickets are $45 for most seats and $60 for the first 4 rows – the infamous “Splatter Zone” (+ticketing and facility fees). There are also $25 partially-obstructed view seats on the side available for walk-ins.  For more information and tickets go to Hit and Myth. I couldn’t find a rating on the website, but in case you have any doubts, this is definitely Parental Guidance material with strong language and sexual content – I’ll bet many teens would love it, while some of their parents … maybe not so much…

Lynn’s comments:

I agree with Luigi’s review – although frankly, I thought he was a bit of a tough marker. (He also apparently didn’t read my blog article where I talked about how I feel about 1/2 star ratings ;)). Like Luigi, I had pretty low expectations going into Evil Dead The Musical. I figured a musical whose biggest selling feature is how much blood it splatters on those people who pay a premium for the privilege probably doesn’t have much to offer otherwise. I was dead wrong (pun intended). It’s a pretty well put-together show and very funny, and the music was surprisingly good. The acting, singing and dancing were first-rate, Mike Griffin’s directing was bang-on, and there were some cool special effects, in addition to the required blood. I’m not a horror fan, nor had I seen the Evil Dead movies (although obviously many of the others in the opening night audience had done so, as they recited word-for-word famous lines from the show – kind of a Rocky Horror-like  cult thing), but the whole thing was so much fun, I left the theatre bubbling, as did all my colleagues. I have to admit I was a little worried on my arrival to find myself sitting in the first row of seats not covered in plastic – 5 rows back of the splatter zone – when there was obviously evidence of “collateral splattering” on in the aisle next to us, but happy to report we escaped unbloodied. Not sure that’s an experience I need to have, although I’m told it washes out. Just hoping the Pumphouse cleans the carpets REALLY WELL before the Fall season  :) LMC 

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