Get ready to do the Necronomicon!
One of the most anticipated shows of the year, Evil Dead The Musical opens at the Market Hall in downtown Peterborough on Wednesday, October 18th. Directed by Caitlin O’Connor and produced by Barb Mills, Evil Dead The Musical is the inaugural production of Peterborough’s newest theatre company, Killer Tree Productions, and is a perfect fun-filled Halloween favourite with four performances between October 18th and 20th.
Evil Dead The Musical is an unlikely Canadian theatre success story. Performed throughout the world, the show has amassed it own cult following which is as devoted to the stage show as to the original films that inspired it.
A musical comedy retelling of Sam Raimi’s classic horror films The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987) featuring Bruce Campbell as larger-than-life hero Ash Williams, the stage show was originally developed as a class project by four Queen’s University theatre students (Christopher Bond, Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris, and George Reinblatt) who brought the show at the Randolph Theatre in 2003.
After a sellout success of its initial run, the show made headlines a year later when it became a festival favourite at the Montreal Comedy Festival. Due to its outstanding success, Evil Dead The Musical found a home off-Broadway in New York City in 2006, sealing its place in musical theatre canon, with the show’s popularity growing as theatre companies throughout the world have embraced this offbeat but beloved production.
Anybody who has seen the Evil Dead films knows the story, and the musical doesn’t stray very far from its source material. Five college students — Ash Williams (Andrew Little), his girlfriend Linda (Caitlin O’Connor), best friend Scotty (Lance Issacs), party girl Cheryl (Carly Evans), and Ash’s dorky sister Shelly (Lindsay Barr) — go for a spring break trip to an isolated cabin in the woods.
Upon arrival, the group discover a tape recorder owned by the cabin’s missing inhabitant, Professor Knosby. When they play the tape, they hear Knosby reciting passages from the fabled Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (a.k.a. “The Book of the Dead”). The incantations open up a floodgate of evil and what was supposed to be a fun holiday filled with friendship, togetherness, and premarital sex turns into a fight for survival as Ash and his friend’s battle for their souls against a Deadite army of Kandarian demons.
Meanwhile, in a plot ripped out of Evil Dead II, Professor Knosby’s daughter Annie (Meisha Browne) and her fiancé Ed (Addison Wylie) hire woodsy hillbilly Jake (Brandon Remmelgas) to lead them through the dark words filled with killer trees to the cursed cabin in search for Annie’s missing father — not realizing the eternal battle between good and evil already taking place at their destination.
Evil Dead The Musical is a show filled with everything: music, romance, comedy, good times, and Deadite bloodshed. Killing demons has never sounded this good!
The fun thing about Evil Dead The Musical is that it is not only a send up of horror films and the Evil Dead movies, but musical theatre as well. Audiences don’t go to this musical expecting to see something of the calibre of Hamilton or Les Misérables. Evil Dead The Musical doesn’t try to be anything except what it is: a campy and over-the-top show filled with stupid puns and silly sight gags that pokes fun at its own ridiculousness. The whole thing is a giant joke that both the actors and the audience are in on.
With the exception of a handful of actors, most of Killer Tree Production’s cast of Evil Dead The Musical is made up of performers who are well-seasoned musicians performing musical theatre for the first time.
It is great to see some new faces in the cast, and not a cast made up of the usual suspects but, as a result, Evil Dead The Musical isn’t as polished as some of the larger Peterborough musicals jam packed with performers who have been doing musical theatre for years. Personally, I enjoyed the rawness of the performances, and the more seasoned actors truly support the others on stage. The comraderie of the cast is very evident, adding to the likeability of the production.
Andrew Little has huge shoes to fill in playing the iconic role of Ash, but he manages to walk the fine tightrope of creating homage to Bruce Campbell without doing an impersonation.
Andrew truly understands the role of Ash and plays him with tons of bravado and with his tongue firmly stuck in his cheek. Ash Williams is a perfect role for Andrew, and he brings a true sense of fun to the role. While he’s the star of the show, Andrew is a giving actor who allows the performers around him to have their individual moments. Whether he is fighting with his own demon-possessed hand, arguing with a crocheted moose head, or decapitating demons, Andrew is a lot of fun to watch.
However, the break-out star of the show is definitely Lindsay Barr as Ash’s sister Cheryl. Making her acting debut, the popular Peterborough musician steals every scene. Lindsay has great comedic timing, first as a prudish and dorky kid sister with a slurpy lisp, and then as a creepy possessed pun-sprouting demon that taunts Ash and company with some of the silliest lines of the night. Lindsay is simultaneously terrifying and hilarious and a total delight to watch. As someone who knows how to already work an audience, she has taken this ability and applied it to what will hopefully become a continuing acting career. Her performance is a blast.
One of the things that really make Evil Dead The Musical work are the memorable songs written for the show. With such great songs such as “Cabin in the Woods”, “Housewares Employee”, “What the Fuck Was That?”, “Bit-Part Demon”, and the show-stopping “Do the Necronomicon”, the music is surprisingly singable. With a great band led by Ryan Browne and the cast filled with seasoned musicians and singers, Evil Dead The Musical is strongest when the performers are singing, and its musical numbers are truly entertaining.
The musical moment of the show goes to Brandon Remmelgas’ performance of “Good Old Reliable Jake”. I’m not sure if Brandon was allowed to just do his own choreography for the number, but it’s a great bit that is really a lot of fun. Brandon also teams up with Andrew to back up Meisha Browne’s equally strong number “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Kandarian Demons”. While every musical number in the show has an entertaining moment, these two are easily the best of the night.
The thing to remember about Evil Dead The Musical is that it is exactly what you think it is. Is it the best musical you’re going to see this year? Possibly not. But is it going to be the funnest? Most likely yes.
If you don’t think that Evil Dead The Musical is going to be your thing, then it probably isn’t. But it is the perfect show for people who may not go to traditional musicals: people who love horror, racy humour, foul language, ridiculous comedy, and tons of gore. It might not be for everybody, but it’s ideal for anybody looking for a fun way to celebrate the Halloween season.
Caitlin O’Connor and her company have really made their mark on Peterborough with Evil Dead The Musical. I look forward to see what off-beat production they bring to the Market Hall next. Peterborough’s theatre scene has a lot of room for more unconventional productions like this one.
Just a note of caution about the show’s self-described “splatter zone”, one of the key features of Evil Dead The Musical. As Ash and friends battle the Deadites, stage blood and guts soak the audience members in the first few rows. Audience members who come to the show traditionally dress in white so they can wear the “blood” like a badge after leaving the theatre. For those who delight in this sort of spectacle, it’s a great feature of the show which is tons of fun. But audience members who would much rather avoid being splattered with stage blood will want to get a seat further back from the stage. Otherwise, be sure to dress accordingly and be prepared for the possibility of being doused in demon blood.
Evil Dead The Musical runs for four performances from October 18th to 20th at Market Hall Performing Arts Centre (140 Charlotte St. E, Peterborough). Shows start at 8 p.m., with a special midnight performance on Friday, October 20th. Advance tickets are $23 general admission ($28 at the door), $18 for students, and $33 for seats in the “splatter zone” (see caution above).