By Quinn Rigg
Lurking in the darkness of the human experience are horrors unspeakable by the mouths of men. Hiding in the shadows of our hearts are the malicious desires nobody dares act upon. Creeping at the edge of our perception are visceral terrors — impulses innate to our nature that we dare not indulge.
That is, unless five college students travel to a cabin in the woods to resurrect Candarian demons by speaking forth forbidden text within a flesh-bound Necronomicon, slowly being transformed into zombified caricatures of themselves, spraying fountains of blood upon rows of willing audience participants… To a killer soundtrack of showtunes and power ballads.
Black Button Eyes’ production of Evil Dead: The Musical delivers visceral laughs amid comedically gruesome viscera. Though the music and dialogue can be cornier than a tortilla factory, the cartoony caricature-esque stylization serves to the benefit of the outrageously spontaneous humor of this show; being evil never seemed so fun. The spontaneity and surprise of this musical is well supported through detailed production design, a supercharged band and a (literally) killer cast.
Written by George Reinblatt, with music by Christopher Bond, Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris and George Reinblatt, Evil Dead: The Musical is a riotous musical love letter to the beloved cult-classic film series of the same name, written and directed by Sam Raimi. Though shallow in thematic depth and lacking in thought-provoking nuance, this comedy makes no attempt to be anything other than a gut-busting, gut-slashing good time. This musical has something for (almost) everybody: vocal pyrotechnics, hilarious melodrama, athletic dancing, loving in-jokes and references to the cinematic cannon the material is derived from, and other blood-spattering delights. A synopsis of the plot may be found here.
Director Ed Rutherford leaves no inch of the Pride Arts Center unturned as actors run, tumble and fight through the blood-drenched space. Though the material of the musical itself is occasionally lacking in consistency or concision, Rutherford maintains the energetic throughline of the show through specificity and aggressively consistent characterization.
Despite circumstances growing exponentially more ridiculous as the show progresses, line delivery is stylistically consistent to the self-aware camp of the book, and dramatically congruous with the wants, needs, and fears of the many characters. Jeremiah Barr’s set is filled with possibility and provides ample opportunity for comedic discovery. Taking care of props and puppets as well, Barr successfully tackles a tour de force of technical direction. Rutherford’s direction synergistically interacts with Barr’s scenic design to present an astounding spectacle — such production value is rarely seen in the intimacy of a storefront venue. From blood-spewing puppets to possessed trees, this team utilizes their space to its maximum efficiency and capability.
With so much viscera involved in the creation and execution of this work, gore and violence must be of utmost priority. Fight choreographer and gore consultant Jon Beal rises to the occasion. The gallons of stage blood used in each show are used with striking efficacy, as it is drips, sprayed, and squeezed at and through every cast member.
Evil Dead is sharply amplified with lively choreography provided by Derek Van Barham. Though campy, the score of this musical showcases a variety of styles, including a tango, a “Time Warp” rip-off, a ludicrously impassioned power ballad and a ragtime vaudeville solo. Van Barham tackles the challenge with vigor and spunk, as cast members readily leap, lift and die to the riveting tunes of a toe-tapping score.
Music direction from Oliver Townsend fills this space to bursting with the powerful beats and raw riffs of his three-person pit orchestra. Henry Altenberg rocks hard on guitar, and Cali Kasten shakes the ground with precision and power on drums.
With such capable behind-the-scenes work, it is only fitting that this production boasts an all-star cast of performers.
Jordan Dell Harris is impeccably intense, suave and athletic as leading man Ash. Harris perfectly embodies the stereotypically heroic and noble protagonist, as a near spitting image of the legendary Bruce Campbell—from the action-ready wide-eyed stares to the hard-pressed furrowed brow. His acting chops are matched by his vocal prowess and able-bodied combat. It takes a special actor indeed to belt at the top of his range while being sprayed with mouthfuls of blood, and it takes a resilient one to convincingly roll across couches and into walls as he battles with his own hand.
Caitlin Jackson brings the house down with her booming voice and hyperattentive energy on stage. With wide-eyed expressiveness and piercing diction, she enlivens the character of Cheryl with zeal and dynamic variety of character. The fun she has onstage is surely shared by all watching her.
Kirby Gibson brings forth her most exemplary doting ingenue to the role of Linda, Ash’s loving girlfriend and coworker. Her sparkling smile is as endearing as it is disarming, which makes for an entertaining contrast as supernatural events lead her to do otherwise.
Stevie Love deftly switches between hollow-brained harlot Shelly and overbearing researcher Annie. Their aptitude in playing to the audience is as engaging as it is humorous.
Black Button Eyes successfully tackles the violent, satirical humor of Evil Dead: The Musical with energy and pluck, transforming the Pride Arts Center into a rural battlefield for demons to rise and fall in the wake of one hard-boiled hero. An able and energized cast engages with the material with bold readiness. Bodies are thrown through the demanding wringer of this gorey musical, and they emerge accomplished and breathless at the end. Though dark things lurk in the forest of our consciousness, Black Button Eyes Productions demonstrates that indulging a little evil now and again can be liberating, rowdy, body-splitting fun.
Black Button Eyes Productions presents “Evil Dead: The Musical” at the Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway through February 16. Additional info and tickets may be found here.