Watch the crowds of eager audience members as they separate and disperse into their respective theaters, and it quickly becomes apparent that there’s something different going on here at New World Stages. While the fussy and impeccably dressed pair off for Mimi le Duck, a rowdy crowd in baseball caps and sweatshirts rushes to take its seats next door. The expectation for a good time is tangible as the young, mostly male crowd sits down for severed heads, severed hands, a talking moose and singing Candarian demons. The lucky few are in the first three rows— dubbed the “Splatter Zone”—aching to be covered in gallons of fake blood.
Yep, that’s right, it’s time for Evil Dead: The Musical.
The movie-into-musical trend has been going on for some time now, but there hasn’t been an adaptation quite like the one that takes Sam Raimi’s campy Evil Dead horror trilogy and adapts it for the stage. To prepare for the evening, I Netflixed the films and was joined by a friend who was so excited by the prospect of seeing the show, he’d called his sister in Texas to brag. She’d made it clear that she’d be coming soon to experience it herself: It’s exactly this sort of fanatical cult fan base that the producers hope to tap into.
Since the plot for Evil Dead can be a bit thin, George Reinblatt, who wrote the book and lyrics, cobbled together bits from all three films to beef up the body count. So the five friends from the first film go on a spring break vacation to an isolated cabin, are joined by Annie (the professor’s daughter) and her boyfriend Ed from the second film with choice lines and details from Army of Darkness (the final film) thrown in for good measure. The smart reworking smoothes over many of the inconsistencies from the original horror flicks and wraps it all together for a hellishly good time.
Most of the action takes place in the cabin, a wonderfully lopsided set by David Gallo that’s tricked out so that just about everything springs to life. But for an essential outdoor scene—when Cheryl (Jenna Coker) escapes into the forest where she’s attacked by trees and vines—a painted curtain is drawn and actors in tree costumes chase her down. It’s a hilarious interpretation of a laughably lurid moment from the original.
As in the film, things really get going once Cheryl transforms into a demon. Coker whips around the stage with such energy and sings with such force, it’s easy to believe she’s somehow possessed. She’s then trapped in the cellar from which she continually pops up to spew bad puns and jokes. It’s also when Ryan Ward, the actor who plays Ash, demonstrates why he’s the star of the show and has lasted since its original Toronto inception four years ago. He embodies the character with the same commitment that Bruce Campbell did in the films: ready to take off his girlfriend’s head with a chainsaw, take off his own hand once it turns on him and do whatever else it takes to survive until dawn. His face is often covered in streams of oily fake blood, which he spits out toward the crowd so he can continue to sing.
It’s the songs themselves that ratchet up the cheese factor. While they’re often quite catchy and employ an eclectic mix of styles, the musical numbers also tend to slow things down; the majority of the crowd seems to be waiting anxiously for the promised sprays of blood. A few, like “What the Fuck?” and “I’m Not a Killer,” get their share of laughs, but it’s the repetition of the film’s quote-worthy canon that gets the largest responses.
The fact of the matter is, yes, it helps to have seen the movies (potentially hundreds of times) to understand why the guys are pumping their fists and hooting at lines like “This is my boomstick.” At one point when Ash and Annie (René Klapmeyer) prepare to smooch, a man in the audience yelled out, “Take her, Ash!” Ryan Ward paused, turned and acknowledge the encouragement with a wry smirk. It’s one of those collective theater experiences that proves Evil Dead is a new type of musical—one that channels the inner college boy in all of us.
Open-ended run. New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St. (betw. 8th & 9th Aves.), 212-239-6200; Mon.-Thurs. 8; Fri. 7:30 & 11; Sat. 7 & 11, $26-$66.