EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL – a Bloody Good Time!

by Jack Shaw

At times this show was brilliantly stupid and sometimes so funny it was genius. When put to music, the campy musical takes us to still another level. Then, there’s the splash zone to bring us back to reality. Did I say “reality?” I saw Stage Left’s production of EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL opening night and it was great fun.

The cast of EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL in all its horrific glory

EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL, if you haven’t guessed already, is a hilarious spoof of three horror movies but it might as well be any movie with zombies. Okay, I admit it. I am not really a theatre snob, I may seem that way because… I don’t know why, but trust me when I say this musical spoof knocked my bloody socks off. It was not only a laugh a minute, the music was unbelievably catching and the songs witty–with beautiful melodies in contrast with the ugly sounds of doom and gloom. The songs themselves were oddly memorable. The lyrics are outrageous in a traditional sense, but memorable nonetheless, and the music itself is surprisingly good–“knock ’em-dead” good. The dancing, unbelievable on so small a stage, blended so well with nature of the show. The ensemble was always in character–serial realistic even. I began to wonder if these weren’t strange individuals to begin with. Special effects were phenomenal. In the end, the entire theatre was on its feet with a well-deserved standing ovation.

I knew this would be an unforgettable experience before I even entered the theater. The Auction House in Audubon is an unusual venue to be sure, but Stage Left’s EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL worked there. The seats were level, not raked as they usually are in a regular theater, so you had to screw your head around to see sometimes. That was a minor distraction.

I did notice only a few “theatre aficionados” among the mysterious strangers that filled “theater.” Those who don’t go to the theatre ordinarily, but there they were. Maybe, they’ll try theatre again. Hmmn. It didn’t really matter. From the moment a zombie in living color tells us to shut up and turn off our phones among other things, we in the audience were raring to go. Or, was it the minute we walked in the door expecting something different? Perhaps a little of both.

We all got that this was going to be a different experience. It was something a non-theater-going audience would appreciate, as well as those of us more acquainted with the theatre arts.

John Baccaro as the shotgun and chainsaw-toting "Ash" in EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL

This should sound familiar. You know the five college-age kids off in the woods in a cabin doing what kids do to be adventurous get more than they bargain for. They do all the stupid things we scream at them not to do. I wonder if senior citizens found themselves in the same predicament would they act that way, too. Now, I am scaring myself. That’s a whole other spoof.

How can anything that sounds so bad as EVIL DEAD be so good? They tell us comedy is best when played honestly, but I would also add consistently and never taking yourself too seriously except in character. The actors approached their roles with such conviction we had to laugh at the ridiculousness of the whole idea. To think, we watched…even accidentally, the Evil Dead and Evil Dead II films…and didn’t laugh so much. Now we laugh even more now as we were reminded of what suckers we were to fall for whole zombie thing at one time. Either that or we just think zombies are funny to begin with.

It works well as a musical, too, as well as any I have seen. The music is genuine. It fits the story and theme. The creators of this show obviously knew how to make it fit together well with the story and make the spoof more than a running gag. In fact there are numerous gags woven throughout the show and found in the songs as well that break up the satire of the spoof. It means the jokes keep coming at you.

This show is for theatre snobs and people who don’t ordinarily go to the theatre–it is for everyone who enjoys a good laugh–or several. It’s even more for people who like to get down and roll with laughter. Now I have to tell you this is not art. You won’t be disappointed though. You will be wildly entertained by this sublime insanity. Without deep meaning, we have problems calling this kind of theatre “art,” but I can tell you the actors, directors, producers are definitely artists who made a kind of “art” tonight.

I approached the theater (The Auction House) not knowing exactly what to expect. I don’t watch horror movies–at least not on purpose, and the silliest I find are the ones with zombies. What’s scary about an ugly walking dead human, creeping along at a snail’s pace? Nothing. But give ’em great songs and choreography… that makes them fascinating, intoxicating, riveting and enjoyable. Still not scary. Ugly, but not scary.

Director Ed Corsi did a fine job working with a terrific cast, filled with golden voices and fantastic comedic timing. Musical Director Jason Neri made the spoof into a respectable musical, and Choreographer Emily Weitzel gets credit for some unbelievable moves on a very small space. She and the dancers made it seem so natural. I would have liked to see this on a larger stage or at least one raised higher, but as it was I can’t complain. I was in the moment.

John Baccaro was “Ash” to me. I’ll never see “Ash” any other way. Baccaro sings, too. I’m jealous. Jennie Knackstedt, who was perfect as “Linda,” Ash’s girl, continues to amaze with her incredible voice in every show I have seen her in. Deena Parr was great as “Cheryl.” Rachel Pinkstone-Marx shined brightly in both parts as the voluptuous “Shellie/Annie.” Ed Santiago was also great in two roles, “Jake/Moose,” although “Moose” sounded a little like Barney, the Purple Dinosaur. Still funny. Talking moose–funny. Sean Casey as “Scott” and Collin Maier as “Ed” also performed brilliantly.

All the performers on stage and off are professionals; taking care in their craft, they made this show a success. One of the hardest things to do on stage is maintain a proper perspective. Too much over the top crazy, too much camp, too much reality, or even too much taking yourself too seriously can ruin the moment. None of those “too much” moments were here. There were times that didn’t go according to plan (like props breaking), but when you are in the moment, either in the audience or on stage, that doesn’t matter. It works even then. The beauty and magic of the theatre experience.

EVIL DEAD is not a show for theatre geeks like me, but everyone (also like me). In spite of its comic topic, this show does not seem intended for children with some raucous language and sexual references some parents may not deem suitable.

I had great fun with Stage Left’s production of EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL. I attended a wild party of the living dead, scary but funny. It may truly become a cult classic like ROCKY HORROR. It is infectious–in a good way. I left smiling all the way to my car and walked in the house with the smile still on my face. I recommend anyone the least bit curious to come experience it.

Book, Music and Lyrics by George Reinblatt
Music by Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris and Christopher Bond
Directed by Ed Corsi
Stage Left Productions
The Auction House
100 W Merchant St
Audubon NJ 08106

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