Look who’s evil now. Nancy Marina Studio Theatre is transformed into a demon-ridden, blood-soaked horror realm in Warner Theatre Stage Company’s production of “Evil Dead – The Musical.”
The play satirizes the ’80s cult classic horror film by the same name, punching all the elements of your typical scary story with accented and exaggerated comedy.
Before the audience was allowed to enter the theater, everyone had to sign a waiver warning people the fake blood would make the floor slippery and that it could stain their clothes. Oh, and that you might leave the theater possessed by a demon. So, from the get-go you could tell this wasn’t your ordinary show.
Patrons had the option to purchase tickets in the infamous “splatter zone.” Most of those audience members wore ponchos provided by the theater, but a select few wore white shirts and fully embraced being drenched and stained with stage blood.
The first act follows happy-go-lucky college students – Linda, Ash, Scott, Shelly and Cheryl – on a fun, weekend adventure to a deserted cabin in the woods without telling anyone where they are.
The mood starts out happy and bubbly. Cole Sutton plays the sex-crazed stud of the group as Scott, accompanied by the voluptuous, not-so-smart Shelly, who he picked up at a bar three days ago and invited along with the goal of getting laid. Caitlin Barra puts, let’s say, a bounce into the character of Shelly, a ditsy and simple girl oozing with sex. She is the dancer of the show and excels in movement and choreography in “Do the Necronomicon.” The way she carries herself says everything about her character on stage.
Josh Newey presents us with a lovable, upstanding Ash, the leader and protagonist of our story. He’s dating sweet and adoring Linda (Shelby Raye), who he met at the grocery store they both work at. His nerdy and anxious sister, Cheryl, comes along for the ride, played by Jenna L. Morin.
Then they find some antique weapons – like a shot gun and axe – as well as a macabre book and professor’s tapes (voiced by Dick Terhune) revealing the discovery of evil, demonic forces that spook Ash’s sister, Cheryl, the only one not coupled up and who Scott taunts and continuously calls a “stupid bitch.” Yes, be prepared for the occasional profane and sexualized language in numbers like “What the F@#k Was That?”
After Cheryl goes alone in the dark to check out an odd noise she hears and is essentially raped by some animated trees, everything changes. One by one, our main characters are picked off and possessed by demons as evil consumes the house and the woods around them. It won’t let them leave.
They are faced with killing their demonic loved ones when they are turned. Mostly with a shot gun, but also with a chain saw to the audiences apparent excitement. Newey puts on a show of physical comedy when a demonically animated moose head, voiced by ensemble member Bryce Chamberlain, possesses his hand with evil. The fight scene between him and his hand is a ruckus riot. When Ash is forced to saw off his hand, it becomes its own being like the hand in “Addams Family.”
Most of the gunshots and limb-sawing, as expected, are followed by blood. Dozens of gallons of fake blood are used in every performance. At various times throughout the show, a blood-like substance is sprayed at the audience in the splatter zone from the catwalk above and the stage. Splattered audience members are invited to take a photo of their blood-soaked selves at the photo station in the lobby after the show to share on social media.
Act One was surprisingly lacking in blood splatter, but audience members in the splatter zone won’t be disappointed by the end of Act Two when most of the blood is launched into the crowd.
Our story shifts in Act 2, when Annie (Olivia Hoffman), the daughter of the cabin owner and professor studying the “Book of the Dead” who discovers evil forces at his cabin, arrives with her boyfriend, Ed (Daniel Willey) and a hillbilly they just met in the woods, Jake (Ruben Soto), who offers to guide them to the cabin on a secret trail when the bridge that is the only other path to the cabin breaks (even though Newey can hilariously pick it up to see what’s wrong with it). Hoffman stood out as the most dramatic and comical character of the show because of her overdrawn seriousness about supernatural studies and research. She is the eccentric demon-buster of our story, constantly talking and always cutting off her boyfriend before he can get in a word.
Because of that, Willey had to rely on emotion and facial expressions for most of his part and we really can see his frustration when he barely gets in a word.
Willey shines in “Bit Part Demon,” a similar number to “Mr. Cellophane” in “Chicago” in his sense of invisibility and being walked over. Ash, who was possessed and then returned to his human state when he sees the necklace he gave his now demon girlfriend, is identified as the lead character who can’t be formulaically be killed, especially not by a minor character like Ed.
Then Hoffman delivers the funniest and most memorable song of the show – “All The Men In My Life Keep Getting Killed By Candarian Demons.” She is a vocal powerhouse and is also able to leverage her singing techniques for comedy in inflection and style. It will be stuck in your head for days.
“The Necronomicon” is, of course, the big dance number of the show, reminiscent of the “Time Warp” in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in its quirkiness. The tune isn’t as memorable, but the dance, choreographed by Sharon A. Wilcox, is phenomenal. It requires a lot of physical exertion and body language on the part of the actors to appear like demons the entire dance. The actors were impressive with their movements as demonized characters the whole show and they generally stayed in character as they flocked on and off stage.
Song-wise, the actors favored character over musicality in the songs, with many of the females in particularly going out of tune occasionally in the upper range. It was less of an issue on the solos. Newey was the strongest male vocalist. Sutton and Soto maintained character and tone with strong voices that are pleasing to listen to in the show.
Our band for the show, led by musical director Meric Martin, is visible through the window of the cabin, which makes it even funnier when Newey again uses physical comedy to portray Ash being attacked by the possessed trees right next to them. The score calls for keyboard (Diana Lawlor), guitar (Aaron Reid) and drums (Noel Roberge) and Martin improvises the bass guitar part which is not written into the music.
Jake Finch plays Fake Shemp in the ensemble.
The play also utilizes video projections to set the narratorial background on “The Book of The Dead” and cleverly shows credits at the end in homage to the film.
Ed Bassett designed the moose head.
Set designer Steve Houk was in charge of the Splatterzone design and execution. Lana Peck designed Linda’s severed head from her decapitation and worked on the set.
Keith Paul, the master of horror and satire, directs this gruesome production.
This show is popular and the studio theater is smaller so try to buy your tickets in advance, though they can be purchased at the box office if there are some left. The show closes this weekend, with remaining performances tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. Visit www.warnertheatre.com for more information.