I challenge you not to be intrigued by the thought of Evil Dead: The Musical. Sure, there are plenty of Halloween-related events that pop up each year around this time, but there’s something about singing demons, campy puns, fake blood—did I mention singing demons?—that my cheesy self just can’t resist. And for the most part, the Minneapolis Musical Theatre’s area premiere of the musical, now playing at Illusion Theater, delivers on all expectations except, surprisingly, the gore. Which begs the question, should this musical be renamed Evil Dead: Lite?
The musical follows the plot of Sam Raimi’s first two Evil Dead films, 80s cult classics known for their sense of humor. Five college students take a weekend trip to an abandoned cabin in the woods and unknowingly release the spirits of Kandarian demons after discovering The Book of the Dead. The show’s protagonist, Ash (Chris Kind), is an employee at a local S-Mart store and unwillingly gets thrust into the role of hero as he watches his sister, girlfriend, and best friend all turn into bad-punning Kandarian demons. In the second half, Ash’s severed right hand is adorned with the iconic chainsaw before he goes on a demon-killing spree.
The plot is easy to follow even for those not familiar with the films, but also features memorable lines for die-hard fans. Kind’s delivery of “Good, bad, I’m the guy with the gun,” was met with cheers.
|evil dead: the musical, presented through november 6 at illusion theater. for information and tickets ($25-$30), see aboutmmt.org|
Songs like “What the Fuck Was That?” and “I’m Not a Killer” only enhance the comedy of the original films—but while there’s certainly blood spilled, there’s something a little clumsy about it. Ash’s demon-killing spree, while manic and loud, falls apart when you see squirt bottles filled with “blood” and other props clearly visible for the actors to use. Seeing the tricks of the trade takes away some of the fun.
In fairness, I’m reviewing the show through the lens of having seen a 2007 off-Broadway production that left me wanting to come back for more. A key element of that production—and something MMT has somewhat unsuccessfully tried to recreate—was the existence of a “splatter zone”: an unsafe area that shy of wearing a head-to-toe poncho would leave you drenched in a blood-like substance by the end of the night. MMT has moved this fun-filled zone from the first few rows of the theater to a self-contained section on the stage itself. A plastic barrier is placed between the zone and other audience members, ensuring no stage blood makes its way to the carpeted floor or fabric seats. While logistically understandable, the resulting effect is that the majority of audience members are left watching the cast engage with the limited few in the splatter zone, instead of feeling like they are part of the fun.
Overall, the actors do a fine job playing up the camp, but the whole is most certainly better than the sum of its parts here. No one performer is a real standout: it’s the characters, rather than the actors, that are the most memorable. As Ash, Kind is likeable and a good physical performer—as evidenced in a scene where he has to beat himself up due to his demon-possessed hand. Also worthy of a mention is supporting actor Thomas Karki, who laments about being a bit-part demon and has a nice voice to boot.
The set itself is an admirable supporting character, coming to life with wall hangings dancing on the wall and trees crashing through windows. The choreography is nicely done and complements the catchy tunes well. The second act dance number, “Do the Necronomicon,” recalls elements of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Evil Dead isn’t high-brow theater, but as long as you go into it expecting a campy good time, you won’t be disappointed. A large portion of the audience on Friday seemed to be Evil Dead fans, not musical theater fans, and their cheers seemed to suggest the musical was doing something right. Still, this show is really about the experience and I wish the production team could have figured out a way to recreate the more interactive environment of the off-Broadway run.