Encore Michigan

‘Evil Dead’ has its dead and bloody swan song at City Theatre

Review September 29, 2019 David Kiley

DETROIT, Mich.–On the surface, Evil Dead: The Musical may seem like cheap and silly send-up of the campy horror flick of the same name, but what we really have in the production now playing at City Theatre here is a complex and sophisticated parallel to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with an apparent, to me at least, through-line to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot and even a nod to the great Irish playwright’s seldom performed Footfalls.

No. I’m joking, it’s just really silly.

Don’t look for meaning, symbolism or a greater theme in this campy blood party. In fact, the whole thing is better if you are high. Can I say that? Is that legal? Is this HBO? I was not high when I took in the recent opening night at the City Theatre. But I seriously imagined how much fun it would be to sit in the front seats “splatter zone” somewhat mildly impaired rather than in the rear of the theatre in the safe zone cold sober. It’s that kind of show.

Sam Raimi’s low-budget homage/spoof series of “Evil Dead” movies blends the H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos about the Necronomicon (look it up if you are not familiar) with the teenagers-in-a-cabin-in-the-woods genre from “Friday the 13th.” Instead of Jason from that franchise, or Freddy Krueger from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series, the teens are under attack by tree people.

There are six characters who end up in this cabin. Cheryl, the bookworm, played wonderfully by Natalie Rose Sevick, is the first to be attacked by the trees. In fact, the nature of the attack is portrayed as a rape. That makes her dead, and then undead, and possessed. Sevick then comes back is largely confined to popping up and down through a trapdoor in an homage, it seems, to maybe Joanne Worley from the old Laugh-In TV show. Her brother Ash (Garrett Michael Harris) is grooving for Linda (Alaina Matthews) and becomes the one who fights all the demons–his friends who reach demonic status one by one after an encounter with the tree people or a bite from one of the others. He has to go after Linda with a chainsaw, and decapitates her. His own hand gets cut off and continues on in the show independent of Ash. Yup.

And then there is Scotty, played ably by Christopher Ross-Dybash, who comes across in this role as a Baldwin Brother we have never heard of who only made foreign gore movies. That’s okay. The groove is right for this blood and splatter show that alternates between zombie-world, horny, sex-hungry head-bangers (simulated sex acts on stage) and chainsaw and shotgun killing and dismemberment.

The most rousing number in the show, “Do the Necronomicon,” evokes “The Time Warp” from “Rocky Horror.” The musical high point, though, is Annie’s doo-wop ballad “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons.” Annie, the scientist’s-beautiful-daughter character, is played by Carrie Drummond, who also doubles as Shelly.

David Schoen plays Jake, who is the guy in the cast who sings about being the weird extra guy who gets killed in every gore movie. Ed (Kevin Kaminski) rounds out the cast as the football player size local who falls into the zombie doings; plus he inhabits a talking moose-head on the wall.

Director Greg Grobis has not only directed this delightfully idiotic bloody sexual paintball fight of a show into a coherent, enjoyable, silly, farcical night out, but he has added some flourishes sure to delight the Evil Dead faithful, including an extra wet night of blood. Technical Director Dustin Miller is probably responsible for the extra enthusiastic fountains of blood. Music Director Matthew Smith keeps the music in tact nicely while the actors are prompted to keep their best pitches in their pockets and sing a bit uneven and off-key on purpose for extra comic effect.

Evil Dead: The Musical is an annual tradition at City Theatre. But the theatre has announced this is the last. So, get your Saturday morning chores tee-shirt and maybe a rain poncho and take a seat upfront.

Week of 7/15/2024

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