The Evil Dead film franchise has been adapted for the stage as a rock musical. WMUK’s Gordon Bolar reviews “Evil Dead: The Musical,” which continues this weekend at the Barn Theatre in Augusta.
Fans of director Sam Raimi’s horror movies will find many of the elements they’ve come to expect in the films on the Barn stage. These include five college students in a cabin in the woods, demons in the cellar, chainsaws, and an assortment of severed body parts. But that’s where the similarities with the cult film classic end.
Unfortunately, due to a weak script, “Evil Dead: The Musical” runs out of gas in Act I. Furthermore, with the exception of a handful of numbers, the unremarkable music fails to lift the evening’s antics beyond the level of a silly sophomoric spoof.
This is not to say there isn’t sufficient talent on the Barn stage to keep us entertained.
Jonnie Carpathios, as Ash, the houseware clerk at S-Mart, provides an appealing, normative hero. He can play the romantic lead in the upbeat number “Housewares Employee” with love interest Linda, played by Cosette Smith. Or he can keep demons at bay with a firearm and chainsaw.
Justin Mathews, as the sunglasses-clad Scott, a lady killer back from the dead, leads the Demon Chorus in “Do the Necronomicon,” a rousing tribute to the sway of the Book of the Dead. Here you might find echoes of “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again” from “The Rocky Horror Show.”
Melissa Cotton Hunter, as the mini-skirted Annie, hot on the trail of the aforementioned book and her father’s ghost, lights up the stage in Act II. Her energetic rendition of “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons” works as both a lament and a signal of her love interest in Ash. She’s guided to the cabin by a backwoods hayseed played by Patrick Hunter, who lifts the end of Act I with the spirited “Good Old Reliable Jake.”
A major difficulty for “Evil Dead: The Musical” is that, after the appearance of the haunted trees, a few demons, and the antics of Ash in the now famous battle with his hand in Act I, the show fails to top its own over-the-top early parade of gags and puns. As a result, the story does not build and has nowhere to go.
The show resorts to killing off characters who keep coming back to life. Or it feeds on its own main character, Ash, who becomes evil himself, then suddenly returns from the dark side to continue fighting, you guessed it: evil.
If you’re trying to divine a plot from this twisted episodic tale, don’t work too hard.
Many in the audience will find that it’s all good fun and often funny. But most of the humor is generated less from the foibles of the characters delivering the lines and more from seeming ad-libs, diabolical throw away lines, or extensive use of the “F-word.”
It is true that Sam Raimi and his lead actor, Bruce Campbell, were also having fun with the special effects in the film franchise. The difference is that the film’s special effects were dazzling for their time, somewhat threatening, and made startling by their sudden appearance and supporting sound. On stage, however, we see every trick coming. Here the special effects of heads being lopped off and blood squirted on bodies from the wings are by their own admission cheesy, cheap, and camp.
Because there is never even a momentary suspension of disbelief, we’re urged to laugh at a faux melodramatic style rather than being captured by a style that was exhilarating on film. Furthermore, unlike the film version, nothing really seems to be at stake here. So, if you go to see “Evil Dead: The Musical”, be prepared more for gags, zombie shtick, and one-liners, than for an evening of horror, surprises, or suspense.