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THEATER REVIEW Evil Dead The Musical
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2019-01-22

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Authors: George Reinblatt/book & lyrics; Reinblatt, Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond & Melissa Morris/music

At: Black Button Eyes Productions at Pride Films & Plays, 4139 N. Broadway. Tickets: BlackButtonEyes.com or evildeadchicago.brownpapertickets.com ; $30. Runs through: Feb. 16

You need not be familiar with the Evil Dead film franchise to enjoy this fast-paced, respectful yet tongue-in-cheek musical adaptation.

Bouncing along on pseudo-1950s-and-1960s rock songs, it's soaked in stage blood and replete with comically sleazy mayhem from the great tradition of grand Guignol theater. It takes characters and plot devices from Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, but its stock ingredients are common to countless schlock horror/slasher flicks: sexcapading young adults, deserted cabin, road washed out, ancient curse, demons, axes, chainsaws, shotguns, etc. Heroically unstoppable Ash ( Jordan Dell Harris ) ultimately is the sole survivor after his girlfriend Linda ( Kirby Gibson ), sister Cheryl ( Caitlin Jackson ), best bud Scott ( Josh Kemper ) and Scott's girlfriend Shelly ( Stevie Love ) all are demonized. But maybe you knew all that.

The merry score opens with "A Cabin in the Woods," a quintet unexpectedly ending in a fugue that is more sophisticated than one might expect. There's a love ballad for Ash and Linda, then an oft-repeated signature tune, "Look Who's Evil Now," as, one by one, the kids turn into demons. Next a tango—yeah, a tango—pops up for Ash and Scott, "What the Fuck Was That," followed by a robust solo number for the weird guy who lives in the woods, Jake ( wonderfully sung by Shane Roberie ).

Act II turns self-referential in the style of Urinetown, as Ash tells late-arriving scientist Ed ( Robert Quintanilla ) that he's unimportant to the plot, leading Ed to perform "A Bit-part Demon," a Broadway-style song-and-dance. Ed then is unceremoniously offed just as Ash predicted ( in fact, Ash does the offing ). Annie, the more important late-arriving researcher, then sings "Kandarian Demons" in a doo-wop style, followed by all the presumed-dead demons gathering for a big dance in the manner of "Time Warp" from The Rocky Horror Show. This highlight of Act II is the only true production number in Evil Dead the Musical.

Musical director Oliver Townsend powers an excellent three-piece band through the score and guides the singers to ingratiating performances. Harris is a rock-solid, versatile singer as Ash, well-matched to Gibson's appealing ( if simple-minded ) Linda. Jackson as Cheryl has solid comedy chops and an unexpected big rock voice. Love in two roles ( Shelly and Annie ) not only contributes musically but also plays Annie in droll Eve Arden style. Josh Kemper's Scott is a perfect loudmouth jerk who can sing. Ed Rutherford is the astute director and Derek Van Barham the choreographer. Jeremiah Barr designed sets, props and puppets, and Jon Beal designed the gore.

Evil Dead the Musical is delightfully mindless splatter theater. As a critic once said of a different show, "It may be junk, but it's extremely well-cooked junk." Tip: leave your good clothes at home!


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