By Bradley Rohlf
Goofy, satirical and excessive, “Evil Dead: The Musical” triumphantly returns, again, to Stray Dog Theatre.
A fun companion piece to the Halloween season, the show was previously presented in 2010 and 2013, with Justin Been directing a second time.
A group of teenagers head off to spend some time in an abandoned cabin in the woods. They find an ancient tome, accompanied by a tape player containing a professor’s translation and recitation if its passages. Naturally, this summons a demonic force that begins to possess the members of the party, and a violent, bloody mess ensues.
If this sounds like the plot of a cult-classic, B-horror flick from the 1980s, that’s because it is. With book and lyrics by George Reinblatt, and music by Reinblatt, Christopher Bond, Frank Cipolla, and Melissa Morris, “Evil Dead: the Musical” is a joyous send-up of the Sam Raimi film series it is based on, and the low-budget horror genre overall. The franchise also launched the career of Bruce Campbell, who played the lead role of Ash in the three movies.
This show has something for almost everyone. It is not necessary to be familiar with the films to enjoy, but for the die-hard fans of the series, there are plenty of winks, nods and inside jokes peppered throughout. For those who just like horror and excess, it plays into the tropes of the genre, and provides what appears to be dozens of gallons of blood, complete with an optional “splash zone” seating area available.
Even for the classic musical theater lover, as long as one can stomach the blood and colorful language, parts of the score pay homage to various historical styles and structures common to the medium. There is more than enough vulgarity to go around, and what I characterize as a moderate amount of excessive gore – all played for laughs.
Riley Dunn is our protagonist Ash, a fun-loving, leader-of-the-gang type with a forceful and angular jawline. He channels equal parts Bruce Campbell and Johnny Bravo, and manages to bring the right balance of silliness and earnestness to the role.
He is joined by a taut comedic ensemble including Dawn Schmid (Linda, his loyal girlfriend), Stephen Henley (Scott, a horny teenager), Jennelle Gilreath (Shelly, some girl they met, also horny), and Christen Ringhausen (Cheryl, Ash’s annoying little sister the troupe begrudgingly allows to come along).
Maria Bartolotta, Josh Douglas, Corey Fraine, and Kevin O’Brien round out the strong cast playing the chorus and various bit parts.
Each actor clearly has a capacity for creating characters with significant depth, and understands how to make the most of the primarily one-dimensional caricatures handed to them. It can be tempting to approach such roles lazily, but this cast works hard for every laugh.
“Evil Dead: the Musical” is a totally oddball and just-for-fun show, but it does take some serious chops to pull it off, and this cast and creative team succeed in doing so.
Stray Dog Theatre presents “Evil Dead: The Musical” Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. from Oct. 11 to 27, with additional Oct. 24 performance, at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee, St. Louis. For more information, visit www.straydogtheatre.org.