The dialogue is stilted at its best and hackneyed at its worst. Our leading man, Ash (Gregory Cuellar), looks directly into the audience when stiffly declaiming his lines, which are more accurately described as one-liners. The other cast members aren't so much stereotypes as they are caricatures of stereotypes. And the blood — oh, great geysers of blood jet across the stage and splatter the front rows as if director Chris Owens is trying to wash away the abomination occurring on the stage.
In short, Stray Dog Theatre's production of Evil Dead: The Musical is about as enjoyable an evening at the theater as you're going to find this Halloween season.
A loving homage to Sam Raimi's horror-comedy trilogy (Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness), Evil Dead: The Musical features elements of all three films and was created by committee to serve as purely populist entertainment. The show assumes you'll have some familiarity with the source material, but it's not necessary to enjoy the show, as the plot is simple: Ash and his best friend Scott (a charmingly horny and foul-mouthed Antonio Rodriguez) bring their dates to a cabin in the woods and unwittingly summon demonic forces, with bloody and hilarious results. All of the ridiculous flaws of the genre's plots are exposed, often by Ash, who points out several instances where the action is improbable.
Cuellar doesn't really channel the lantern-jawed machismo of Bruce Campbell, the cinematic Ash, but he does provide the necessary cocky heroics and hammy delivery. His duet with Linda (Julie Venegoni), "Housewares Employee," is much more touching than you'd expect of a show with seats available in the "Splatter Zone." Venegoni is a real trooper, suffering a grisly decapitation and managing some well-done stage magic in order to sing beautifully with her body stuffed inside a box.
Speaking of bodies, Laura Coppinger flaunts hers as the sexy but brain-dead Shelly, and she wrings every last laugh out of an arsenal of squeals and confused shoulder shrugs.
The songs vary in quality, some of them going on for a chorus or two too long, others ending all too quickly. "Bit Part Demon" fits in the latter camp, a vaudeville-styled number performed brilliantly by the wiry Ryan Cooper. Steven Castelli likewise kills during "Good Old Reliable Jake," a gloriously ridiculous series of claims made by conveniently placed backwoods lump, Jake. Musical director Joe Dreyer and the house band play everything with gusto, however, so even the less-than-stellar numbers are easy on the ears.
Despite the excellent performances marshaled by director Chris Owens, the secret to this show's success is not the cast — it's the audience. The house was packed, enthusiastic and appreciative of every in-joke, dumb pun and explosion of gore. This is the kind of show that thrives on an engaged audience, and it's hard not to be involved when a guy with a five-gallon blood bag in his overalls is wriggling through the first two rows. Evil Dead: The Musical knows its audience, and it definitely gives the people what they want — chainsaw murders, dancing demons and lots of laughs.
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