Brian McGee as Ash Williams
Zanna Wyant as Annie/Shelley
Heather Mae Steffen as Cheryl
Lindsay Sporleder as Linda
Oklys Pimintel as Scotty
Shawnn Morris Slaughter as Jake
Henri Boulanger as Shemp
Tyler Pardini as Ed/Shemp
So, it’s become my and buddy Tom’s (my comicon-attending compatriot) tradition to head down to Chicago a night or two early for C2E2 to chill out, take in the sites and sounds (and tastes) of the Windy City and otherwise laze about prior to the days of hard labor that are the con. Years prior, we’ve attended hockey games, seen the latest superhero flick to hit the screen, and eaten copious amounts of Italian beef. This year, we settled on Evil Dead the Musical (in HD!) at the Greenhouse Theater.
Next year’s gonna have its work cut out for it to top this.
A bit of backstory to this review might be requisite. Know that I am a fan of the Evil Dead films and of Bruce Campbell. Have been for literally decades. Like, to a bit of an unhealthy degree. Seen all three movies (and Within the Woods, the original short Raimi, Campbell and company made prior to the original Evil Dead) on multiple of multiple occasions, as well as the Ash vs the Evil Dead show and have read If Chins Could Kill, Hail to the Chin, and Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way several times each. And pretty much all the comics. It’s an illness for which I want no medication. In 1992, other buddy Gabe (another deadite enthusiast) and I skipped our respective courses at University of Wisconsin-Parkside and sat, the only two people at the now-defunct Regency Theatre in Racine, cackling like rabid hyaenas at the first-day screening of Army of Darkness.
Back in 2007, same buddy Gabe and I traveled to New York to see the reunion concert of our favorite punk band, and missed Evil Dead the Musical by four days…four days that have haunted my dreams and nearly every waking moment since. Ok, so maybe not quite every waking moment. But I really wanted to see it, and was totes bummed. I listened to my Evil Dead the Musical CD for two months straight to resolve my grief.
Imagine my excitement then, when I discovered that said musical was going to be in town the week of C2E2—and is now even enhanced in hi-definition (well, ish) to boot?!?
For those not in the know, all three of you (love you, Grandma!), the Evil Dead films address the misadventures of S-Mart housewares employee Ash Williams and his dalliances with the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, the Book of the Dead. The first film was a straight-laced and very effective horror film (and despite its negligible budget, was technically quite ahead of its time). Evil Dead 2, which is more a reboot than a sequel, trends toward camp and black comedy, with buckets of gore thrown in for good measure. That, and a demon-infested hand. Army of Darkness, the third and to this point final of the films, was pure camp and a complete lark from beginning to end.
EDtM is a blend of all three films, with some fun pop culture references filtered in as well as the occasional passive-aggressive extra (Tyler Pardini was a riot as an irritable, too-important-to-be-bothered Shemp). Oh, and blood. Lots and lots of blood. Literally buckets (and spray bottles, a hose, a couple bags and an occasional pressure spray) of blood.
You see, EDtM takes a number of cues from its theatrical ancestor, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Most important among them is that audience participation, or at least audience drenching, is a key part of the experience. Those folks game enough to sit in the first three rows (we were front and center, first row!) are in the “Splatter Zone,” guaranteed a good soaking in theatrical gore (I’m guessing a combination of corn syrup and red food coloring, based on the volume of it that found its way into my piehole). A thoroughly enjoyable add-on to an already thoroughly enjoyable experience, and worth every minute of the extra laundry work I’ll be doing Sunday night after the con.
Another trait of Rocky Horror that rears its glorious head (in this case, a moose’s) in EDtM is the ridiculous camp of the story and its songs. Amplifying the absurdity that characterizes the last two films, each song is an ode to the preposterous, a riot of the ridiculous. Tom and I laughed, without exaggeration, from beginning to end. Somebody had a helluva good time writing this stuff; I can totally picture them sitting there, laughing aloud as they wrote. It’s a blast. Or a boomstick, you might say.
Now, you may worry that, given it’s niche nature and less-than-Shakespearean tone, the cast might be…well, not exactly Tony-caliber. Not to worry. I can’t speak to their being Tony winners, but they certainly nailed their roles and, to a one, hit every note. Brian McGee showed just enough of the Mighty Chin to make it certain whose shoes he was working to fill, but enough of his own unique quality and intensity to make the role of Ash his own. Heather Mae Steffan, in addition to having a gift for physical comedy and a powerful voice, showed outstanding comedic timing as Ash’s demonically-turned younger sister. Zanna Wyant was a riot as the contrasting roles of ditzy blonde Shelley and bookish snob Cheryl. Lindsay Sporleder nailed her performance as Ash’s love-struck and innocent “perfect girl” Linda, while Oklys Pimintel played pervy best friend Scotty with just the right dash of ham. Shawnn Morris Slaughter was hysterical in his solo as Jake, while Henri Boulanger and Tyler Pardini frequently stole the scene as capering Shems (you’ll have to watch EDtM to know what that means). Neither Tom nor I found a weak performance or a missed beat among them.
Really. Better than Cats. A lot less creepy, at any rate.
Oh, and the “HD” presentation? It’s kind of a neat gimmick. Rather than a set and props (there are a few props, but very minimal), there’s a video screen wall behind and underneath the actors with which they interact, and which shifts throughout the show. It’s graphics aren’t exactly next-gen, but more than serve the purpose and frankly match the campy nature of the material well. I found it to be surprisingly effective, bridging the gap for the special effects from the films that would simply be too unwieldy or expensive to reproduce on-stage.
I was a little apprehensive going in, despite my excitement: several reviews of this group complained of marginal and muddled sound, and a friend who’d seen a different presentation of the show in Las Vegas simply wasn’t impressed. I had no such issues on either count, and the chatter among the crowd coming out—a good mix of clear Deadite-heads and neophytes—was overwhelmingly positive. Even the guy and gal in punk rock garb sitting by themselves, who literally had a bucket of blood tossed in their laps.
Now, this is not one I’d particularly recommend for the younger set: there’s a fair amount of comically sexually suggestive behavior and blue language. But for those of you who appreciate a good exorcism, especially one with creepy animated trees, this show’s for you!
Unfortunately, you’ll have to act quick if you want to see EDtM this time through: it’s about to leave and go on hiatus for a bit. Saturday’s show (already a sellout) is the last, leaving only Thursday and Friday as opportunities to snatch up tickets. If you’re here in Chicagoland for the con anyway though, and looking for something to do—you’ll be hard-pressed to find better entertainment, especially at such a relatively low cost (regular seats are $30; Splatter Zone seats are $35).
Those interested can find more information and purchase tickets from the touring company’s website: http://evildeadtickets.com/ Now, get to it, you primitive screwheads—and don’t forget your parka! (Actually, no big deal if you do; you can buy one at the merch table for the low, low price of $5)
And remember, shop smart: shop S-Mart!
Score: 13 out of 13
Review by Andy Patch
Staff Writer & Contributing Editor