"Evil Dead The Musical" is stuffed with wry asides on the absurdity of the genre and backhanded acknowledgement of the ludicrous set-up, providing constant reminders that this show is "just for fun." Lines are often delivered with invisible quotation marks, and accompanying head tilts, pointed looks, and emphatic gestures.
The violence and characters are both intentionally over-the-top and stereotypically shallow. These broad strokes, frequently delivered with a nod to the audience, minimize the potential shock of the gory moments, allowing the actors to revel in their actions.
And do these actors revel. "Evil Dead The Musical" is played big and broad, with a marked preference for comedic embellishment that works well with the material. Paul Cereghino handles the leading role of Ash Williams with just the right swagger. His dramatic pauses, snappy head turns, and heroic poses are perfectly exaggerated and held just a tick too long, entirely appropriate to the tone of this show.
Angela Bubash and C. E. Fifer are spot on in their send ups of the over-sexed couple, with Bubash adding an extra touch of ditzy to counter Fifer's misogyny. Eileen Engel and Brittany Kohl play ingénue-like roles with a comedic flare, while Jeff Loeffler, Zachary Stefaniak, and Michael Wells each have laugh out loud moments in supporting roles.
It is Anna Skidis as Cheryl Williams, however, who nearly steals the show. As the easily frightened tag-along sister and first victim of the evil menace that lurks in the woods, Skidis turns in a performance that is near perfection, and maniacally gleeful. She fully commits, both vocally and physically, to the show's excess, bursting from the cellar underneath the cabin with delightful frequency and bitingly funny lines.
Fans of the movie will appreciate that the story generally follows the first entry of the cult-like franchise. Direct film references are liberally sprinkled throughout the performance, including several of Bruce Campbell's memorable, campy quips. The witty dialogue comes at you fast and furious but is generally easy to follow, even for audience members who have never seen the original B movie series that inspired the musical
The show got off to a bit of a slow start on opening night, and it wasn't until the fourth song, "Look Who's Evil Now," that the performance found its tempo and took off. Skidis and Bubash deliver the number with a lusty energy that was lacking in the opening moments, providing just the spark this fun-spirited gore fest needed.
The music and vocal direction of Chris Peterson utilizes the cast's vocal strengths well and keeps the show moving along with an upbeat feel. A few of the numbers reference familiar pop styles, particularly doo-wop harmonies, complete with back-up singer dance moves and hand gestures.
Choreographer Jamie Lynn Marble keeps the dancing light and uncomplicated. References to Thriller and Gangnam Style, as well as a few other dance trends, are sure to generate laughter and applause from the audience. The attention to small details and connecting movements is no less commendable, particularly as several of those moments also need to accommodate important make-up and costume changes.
The three-piece Evil Dead band (Chris Petersen, Adam Rugo, and Bob McMahon) easily fills the space and the cast sings well enough and harmonizes better. The score, by George Reinblatt, who also wrote the book, Frank Cippolla, Christopher Bond, and Melissa Morris, has a nice flow, carrying the exposition with just enough twists to keep interest and engage the audience.
Director Justin Been and his technical crew, led by scenic designer Nathan Marshall and Lighting Designer Tyler Duenow, once again make great use of the unique theater space. The scene directing audience attention to the stained glass windows, with a shadow projected from outside the building showing Cheryl in the woods, was particularly inventive and effective.
Devoted fans of the movie franchise, and those who appreciate an immersive theater experience, will want to reserve their spot in the splatter zone, a designated seating area near the stage where the special effects really come to life. Better yet, you may still have the opportunity to walk away in your very own "I survived the splatter zone" t-shirt.
Stray Dog Theatre 's "Evil Dead The Musical" runs through November 2, 2013, with performances Thursday through Saturday nights, plus a special midweek show on Wednesday, October 30. Opening weekend for this popular revival was quickly sold out; visit www.straydogtheatre.org for more information or to reserve your tickets.