Evil Dead Musical Possessed by Spirit of Mediocrity (The Norm Theatre)
I went to Evil Dead: The Musical thinking I was all-but-guaranteed to see a great show. By my reckoning, the three classic Evil Dead movies could be adapted into a gory stage musical a hundred different ways, but so long as that essential Evil Dead spirit was preserved, the show couldn’t go wrong.
But alas, the show went pretty wrong. This production certainly looks like Evil Dead—it’s got the demons, the chain-saw, the gore, and many of the films’ most memorable catch-phrases—but unfortunately, somewhere along the line it became possessed by a malevolent spirit of Mediocrity. At best, an occasional glimmer of Evil Dead’s true soul shines through as it struggles mightily against the will of its captor, but in the end, sadly, Mediocrity wins the day.
All through the opening-night show, I could hear Mediocrity’s phantom whisper, urging the writers and director to forsake the clever for the dumb and obvious, the straight gag for the wide-eyed mug. When the hapless Cheryl makes an aside about how she is walking off alone into the deep dark woods, it’s supposed to be funny because she’s so self-aware about what she’s doing. The problem is, that joke has already been done so many times that it would actually be funnier—not to mention more faithful to the original—to just walk off alone into the deep dark woods without reflection, just like they do in the movies.
And that’s the critical error that hamstrings this show. The Evil Dead movies succeeded by taking the clichés of the horror-movie genre and straight-facedly amping them up to extremes; this musical version disappoints by making its characters constantly pull faces at the audience, apparently fully aware that they are disposable cardboard characters in a supernatural horror-comedy stage musical.
And disposable cardboard characters they are, unnecessarily hammed up from their film counterparts because today’s audiences apparently hunger to see the same damned thing over and over. Two characters in particular—a dumb chauvinist jock and his slutty bimbo girlfriend—have been done a million times before, and parodied a million times more. This production merely re-hashes the standard parody, doing nothing to transcend the clichés and make these stock characters funny again—instead, we’re supposed to laugh merely because the dumb jock is really chauvinist and the bimbo is really slutty. Yawn.
However, this show is not without its charms, most of which emanate from Scott Walters’ Ash. Ash is the hero of this story, and he pulls double-duty here, because on top of saving humanity from evil forces beyond our imaginations, he also saves this show from itself. Walters has the stature, charisma and pure physical energy to pull off Ash’s manic machismo-slash-terror, and his dexterity and sharp timing make the show’s set-piece slapstick scenes—such as Ash’s mortal battles with his own demon-possessed hand—laugh-out-loud funny.
Thanks to Walters, Mat Baker’s sadly under-utilized Jake, an impressive set and some fun, gory violence, this production is worth at least half its $32-$35 ticket price. Since one can buy all three Evil Dead DVDs for about the same price as this show, my advice is to make sure you own (and love) the movies that inspired Evil Dead: The Musical before you consider forking out for this merely semi-satisfying show.
At the Norman Rothstein Theatre (950 West 41st Avenue at Oak) until November 7. Info and tickets at http://www.dsrproductions.com/