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"Dying is easy; comedy is hard"? Try both at once. In large part, what makes Evil Dead: The Musical such cultish fun is its dedication to reproducing the original horror films' gore and suspense, woven right into the utterly insane campiness of its silly tunes and raunchy dialogue. They could scare the wits out of you if they wanted to, and they don't mind letting you know it.

After its madly successful production last year, Who Wants Cake? has partnered with Olympia Entertainment and resurrected the musical for another Halloween run, but this time the Deadites have taken to downtown Detroit's City Theatre. With some of the same cast, the same director (Joe Plambeck), and the same creative team, the result is a production that looks and feels happily familiar, but plays out on an enormous stage that set designer Tommy LeRoy makes into a playground for Jen and Ted Hansen's mystical array of special effects. Everything is supersized, from the cabin walls to the knick-knack assortments to the taxidermied moose head, with no drop in quality. Blood fountains, Michele LeRoy's dazzling lighting, sound effects, and an unseen three-piece band exist together in practically perfect harmony with a hardworking cast that captures the delicate balance between homage and mockery.

Mitchell Koory returns as Ash, the determined self-preserving protagonist who has organized a low-profile spring break debauchery vacation in an abandoned Michigan cabin. Also returning is Christa Coulter as kid sister Cheryl, amazingly more obnoxious in death than in life with her holy terror of a pun-wielding geek demon. Leah Victoria has a new role this year, and her colossally slutty Shelly and shrewishly insufferable Annie both nail their punchlines. As Ash's girlfriend, Linda, Allyson Ortwein is a great fit for the material, both a believable romantic lead and an committed cheeseball. Tim Kay unleashes hormones and lowest-common-denominator rancor in a crazy physical performance as Scott, David Schoen punctuates the steadfast earnestness of Jake with blistering asides, and Jeff Bobick once again makes memorable the forgettable pushover, Ed. Written by George Reinblatt, the story follows the events of two-ish films of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, in which the kids stupidly play around with a book entitled Necronomicon Ex Mortis and awaken a nation of singing, dancing Candarian (not Canadian) demons, who vow to overtake them one by one. Music director Michael Smith ably guides the many musical numbers (by Reinblatt as well as Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, and Melissa Morris) that range from tango to doo-wop to a perverted calliope. Jerry Haines's playful choreography reaches its zenith in a corny love song between Ash and Linda; in later numbers, however, the performers are visibly (and understandably) timid about slipping and falling on a blood-soaked stage floor. And, parody or not, Vince Kelley’s barely-there costumes still manage to take the viewer to Cooch City.

At the risk of veering into mere comparison with last year's production, a few points bear noting. First and most important, the heralded onslaught of audience blood seems to have become far more deliberate, but also far more accurately targeted. Although it makes perfect business sense because the City Theatre seating area is plushly finished, viewers even mildly interested in feeling the spray should absolutely lay down the $5 extra for a splatter zone ticket. The change in venue also plays with perspective in a few conspicuous ways: for one, much of the blocking and choreography refuses to take advantage of the wider stage and seating; for another, the larger scale of the production doesn't quite keep up with the larger scale of the venue. Essentially, the entire operation has noticeably increased in volume, but the sensation of a black-box melee doesn't quite survive the journey.

Nevertheless, this incarnation of Evil Dead: The Musical makes for a great audience experience. From its jokes skewering plot holes, filmmaker Sam Raimi, and star Bruce Campbell, to a number mocking the Time Warp with its celebrated awfulness, to its effectively headless and handless and disemboweled victims, this production has appeal for a broad spectrum of viewers. For Halloween die-hards struggling to find an activity to share with their lame fright-averse friends — take it from this lame-o, you've found it.


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