Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


I am not a Halloween person. Nor am I a scary-movie person. Had I not felt obligated to get the full experience for this review, I would never have chosen to sit in the designated "splash zone" at a theater with posters warning, "There will be blood!" Which explains why I took my seat for Evil Dead: The Musical, at the farthest reaches of the splash zone, with a bandana covering my hair and my torso sheathed in a scented trash bag. I was skeptical, but game. This exposition is necessary in order to put the following in its proper context: I loved every single minute.

The play is a fast-moving interpretation of the Evil Dead series of films, which I have never seen because of my aforementioned avoidance of yuckiness. Five college students — protagonist Ash, his girlfriend, his sister, his best friend, and the girl his best friend is nailing — have the brilliant idea to spend their spring break alone, in the woods, in an abandoned cabin. They accidentally summon demons from another dimension, and one by one become possessed or worse. As the plot unfolds, the students, and a handful of other characters, sing their hearts out even as they are being shot and dismembered.

As with any good homage to a decades-old cult film, the end product is high camp. (The cast even throws in a few winks to series creators Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, appropriate as the films were made nearby in Michigan on a shoestring budget.) What makes or breaks good camp is brilliant execution, and here is where the cast and director Joe Plambeck are pitch-perfect, with strong vocals and all-out choreography to support the painstakingly timed jokes. Other reviewers have mentioned the standout performance of Christa Coulter as Ash's sister, Cheryl, so I will instead acknowledge Jay Mapile's turn as best friend Scott. Clearly a fine performer, Mapile expertly tackles the conflicting demands of singing and dancing unironically while simultaneously portraying a fratty d-bag.

Technically, this production is a masterpiece. The promised blood, of which there was plenty, really piqued my intellectual curiosity: What is this stuff? How do they get it out of...some people's entire costumes, not to mention the carpet? How did some of it get on my program, which I had tucked under my leg which was under a garbage bag for heaven's sake? The effects team (Jen Hansen, Ted Hansen, Michelle LeRoy, and Tommy LeRoy) goes over the top with around a dozen unique and unexpected special effects in addition to repeatedly bloodying the first three rows in new and increasingly clever ways. Somehow, the cumulative effect was so over the top that it wasn't at all scary, to my relief. Everything from the prosthetic demon faces to the vengeful and hedonistic trees left the audience laughing at the excess rather than squirming in discomfort. Michelle Becker's set and costumes deftly hid the surprises until the appointed times, and Michelle LeRoy's lighting design was especially strong when used to enhance the fight choreography.

One hiccup is the ending — although how to end a musical in which almost everyone dies is an inevitable predicament, and the anachronistic closing scene here doesn't negate the wonderful work that precedes it. This production knows exactly what it is, and that is great high-level lowbrow fun for fans of campy musicals and/or the original films. It seems to fit in well with much of the Who Wants Cake? canon, so one can hope that the theater will revive the show next Halloween. I may even sit in the front row.

1 Comment:

  1. Jessalyn said...
    Thanks for the review! -J

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