If it's October then it must be time for a lot of theatre companies to put on appropriately themed shows. Fortunately for the audiences there are a lot more choices than at Christmastime which tends to bring an endless stream of A Christmas Carol, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and The Nutcracker. For every company that produces a version of Dracula or Frankenstein there are the more contemporary tales such as The Rocky Horror Show, Little Shop of Horrors or The Toxic Avenger. To this list must be added the very fun Evil Dead: The Musical currently being produced by Landless Theatre Company at the Frederick Cultural Arts Center in Maryland.
Touted on their website as the only musical created from a series of horror films (Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness) Evil Dead: The Musical was very appropriately created in the back room of a bar in Toronto in 2003. It subsequently had a good run off-Broadway at New World Stages in 2006-2007. Landless produced the show in 2009 and brings it back in 2010 to an appreciative audience.
One does not need to know the films (the fans in the audience will let you know when a favorite line comes up), or worry about being frightened by the action upon the stage. One does need to be prepared for the splatter zone. There is a reason that all of the theater seats are wrapped in plastic and the box office sells trash bag ponchos for $1.00. No matter where you sit there is good chance that you will get hit by blood (which washes out). This reviewer was quite proud of the fact that despite no protection she managed to only get "hit" with a few drops on the wrist, clothing pristine, despite being only three seats away from an audience member that got drenched.
The script and score of the show are not as well written as Little Shop of Horrors or The Toxic Avenger musicals. There are some very clever songs. Act one appears to be staged a bit erratically as we encounter the classic horror movie teens trapped in the woods scenario. We meet our hero, Ash (Clay Comer), his sister Cheryl (Karissa Swanigan), girlfriend Linda (Amy Baughman), best friend Scott (Matt Baughman) and Scott's girl of the week Shelly (Momo Nakamura). The teens break into a cabin in the wood where they discover hidden in the basement the necronomicon - the book of the dead and a tape recording of the professor who discovered the book. The recording includes an incantation which brings the evil forces to life. One by one, beginning with Cheryl the teens succumb to the evil forces. Meanwhile we meet the professor's daughter, Annie (Heather Bagnall Scheeler), her boyfriend Ed (Charles Johnson) and a reliable guide, Jake (Andrew Lloyd Baughman who also provides the voices of the professor and the moose). Act two seems written a bit more seamlessly as much blood and puns are shed as the story grows to its macabre finale.
While the vocal qualities of the ensemble are not evenly matched all of the actors perform well the stereotypes of their parts. Standout performances are given by Karissa Swanigan who transitions from sheltered loner to pure evil, a combination of demon possessed Regan from The Exorcist and the last demon comic standing. Charles Johnson takes his meek and seldom spoken Ed and drives him to a scene stealing singing dynamo. Heather Bagnall Scheeler provides the right mix of all-knowing expositionist to vibrant act two love interest. It takes a bit of act one for him to warm up, but ultimately Clay Comer becomes the dashing hero of the evening with a strong voice and a strong stomach for the carnage he must create.
The show is hampered by using recorded music, but the advantage is that the score does not overwhelm the actors and they do not require microphones to be heard, a true rarity in musical theatre of the 21st century.
Evil Dead: The Musical is a fun evening and great preparation for the Halloween season. Make sure to wear white if you are going to sit in the front row and you might come away with a great homemade Halloween costume.
Evil Dead: The Musical will be presented October 16, 17, 23, 24, 25, 29 and 30 at 8 p.m. and October 31 at 3 p.m. at the Frederick Cultural Arts Center, 15 W. Patrick Street in Frederick, Maryland. For tickets and other performance information visit www.landlesstheatrecompany.org.