Campy horror always has a comfortable home during the Halloween season; therefore, programming the ultimate camp feature EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL is a natural choice. Country Playhouse is currently presenting the raucous, irreverent musical as part of their Halloween Creature Double Feature.
The musical tells the story of five college aged kids that visit a secluded cabin in the woods for Spring Break. Following the plot set forth by genre conventions, they discover a book bound in human flesh known as The Necronomicon, or the Book of the Dead. Without any hesitation they play a taped audio recording of the book and unleash Candarian Demons into the world, turning their week of hedonism into one of bloodshed.
Gene Kato’s direction of the show is good overall, but has a serious misstep in the form of musical direction. Frankly, I found myself wondering if the cast was instructed to not take their signing seriously at all and simply abandon quality for camp. This is compounded by the fact that Jessica Bowman Rohe delivers the evening's best vocals consistently, making the others appear out of practice or simply miscast. On the other hand, the book scenes and acting are perfectly directed to be delightfully and enjoyably campy, giving the audiences everything they want from the show. Choreography by Erich James Polley is fun and functional, and blows the audience away with quality and laughs in “Do the Necronomicon.” Unfortunately, the inconsistent quality in singing detracted from the overall experience.
Jonathan Moonen stars as Ash, played by Bruce Campbell in Sam Raimi’s trilogy of films that the musical is derived from. Jonathan Moonen channels Bruce Campbell and does a good job impersonating him while adding his own unique attributes to the character. He utilizes his brand of charisma to drive the show forward and entertain the audience at the same time.
As Cheryl, Rebeccah Bauerlein spends most of her time on stage as a demon. She delivers George Reinblatt’s punchy one-liners and zingers with a gleeful ease, eliciting hearty guffaws from the audience. Her demon voice is sharp, nasal, and adequately annoying which adds another layer of fun to her performance.
Jessica Bowman Rohe steals the show as Shelly and Annie, providing the evenings most polished and enjoyable vocals. Her rendition of “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons” is among, if not the, best performance of the entire show. She is consummately humorous and plays each of her two characters distinctly, keeping their characterizations separate.
Scott, played by Jake Bevill is a stereotypical horny, stupid frat boy. He earns his fair share of laughs from the audience and obviously has fun with the character.
Playing Linda, Jamie Betik does not stand out in. The rest of the cast goes for broke in their simplistic and campy characterizations of their human and demon counterparts. Jamie Betik is present on stage but not audacious enough to be memorable, and gets covered by the other’s performances.
Marc C. Connelly is fantastic as Ed, especially when delivering “Bit-Part Demon,” which is easily one of the night’s highlights. His antics as the Moose Voice and a tree are funny as well. Likewise, Tom Stell is hilarious with his turns as a tree and as Jake. Bryan Maynard makes the best of his small roles too, providing nicely executed comedic moments.
Gene Kato’s set design is phenomenal. The run-down and seedy cabin looks spectacular and convincing. It is completely functional and utilizes all the elements that fans of the musical and the films that audiences have come to expect and require from EVIL DEAD. Additionally, it sets the mood and tone for the show well.
Gene Kato’s sound design is simplistic and works most of the time, but there are moments where the cast is rendered inaudible by the canned music.
Phil Nichols and Melissa Nichols creature designs for the show are fun. The prosthetic masks worn by the demons are skillfully sculpted, but the use of elastic bands adds a welcome layer of camp to the aesthetic.
Brianna Stiglets costuming elements are character appropriate and work well to better convey character to the audience.
EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL is a humorous romp and a nice antithesis to FRANKENSTEIN, also running at Country Playhouse. There are many chuckle worthy references to Sam Raimi, the Evil Dead universe, and humorous sight gags in the production. The humor alone makes the show worthwhile. For my dollar though, the unrefined vocals hurt the performance and take a lot of the fun out of the show. Sadly, there were times that I wished the performance was not a musical and just a played for camp comedy.