By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
I like to think of myself as an enthusiastic, practicing member of several subcultures but I’m a babe in the woods compared to the army of zealots known as the Deadites. These energetic folk are worshippers of the Evil Dead film series and the world of rabid fandom they’ve created puts the rest of us to shame.
In 1981 Sam Rami wrote and directed a schlocky horror film gorefest called The Evil Dead and nobody knew at the time it would become a worldwide entertainment juggernaut with countless sequels, a TV show, video games, action figures, merch for days, endless fan web sites, tours and, most notably for this purposes of this review, a musical.
Evil Dead: The Musical continues through October 19. Pittsburgh Musical Theatre, West End. 412/539-0900. www.pittsburghmusicals.com
George Reinblatt wrote the book and lyrics, along with music from Christopher Bond, Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris, Rob Daleman and Reinblatt, for a musical mash-up of Evil Deads 1 & 2 called Evil Dead: The Musical. The show debuted in Canada in 2003 and kicked around for a bit, eventually ending up off-Broadway in 2006. Since then it’s played all around the world – and apparently it’s a big hit in Vegas!
Not that it really matters that much, but it’s about a group of five teenagers spending a weekend at a remote cabin in the woods where of course there’s a Book of Dead and of course there are zombies roaming the land and of course there are mountains of gore and buckets of blood and of course there’s a hero with a chainsaw attached to the end of his arm. (Okay, maybe that part is unexpected.) Rami’s original films were parodies of the horror/gore genre and the show goes whole hog camping up the films but also satirizing the loopy conventions of musical theater.
Evil Dead: The Musical made it’s Pittsburgh premiere in 2014 with No Name Players and in 2017 Pittsburgh Musical Theatre presented an extremely well-received production. So well-received, in fact, that PMT has now brought it back with mostly all the original company for a limited run in their West End performance space.
As befits the Evil Dead: The Musical tradition, the show doesn’t start until later in the evening, in this case, 10 p.m. and also features the de rigueur “Splatter Zone.” The first three rows of seats are set aside for those committed Deadites who not only don’t mind being squirted with gallons of stage blood but actively encourage it … true Deadites come to the Splatter Zone wearing white clothing!
You don’t need to have seen any of the Evil Dead films to enjoy the musical. I haven’t and I did. There’s just something so communal about the shared experience of this PMT production. The cast, crew, musicians and audience are work together creating a goofy, outrageously oddball evening of theater and it’s impossible to resist the lure of all that fun.
Nick Mitchell directs and completely immerses himself, and us, into this world. The whole point of the show is for everyone involved to being saying to each other “Can you believe we’re doing this?” and Mitchell takes very seriously this tricky task of not taking it seriously.
- A. Goodnack is the embodiment of the boomstick-wielding Ash; Goodnack has a unique ability to play both the thudding sincerity of this slightly-dense hero while at the same time bitchily commenting on that sincerity. Laura Barletta’s having a ball as the sarcastic demon sister Cheryl and Kait Descutner does her own send-up as the doomed love interest Linda. Mandie Russak and Adam Fladd are a hoot as the horny, dumber-than-a-box-of-hair teenagers Shelly and Scott. Whitney Noelle brings plenty of gleefully abstruse determination to the heroine Annie. Connor Bahr, Joe York and Brady D. Pasty round out the cast in their hilariously colorful supporting roles.
PMT is still working through the sound issues of their converted-church-assembly-hall performance space, i.e. it’s impossible to hear the lyrics once the music starts. But considered the skill of musical director Francesca Tortorello and her band, and the merely serviceable lyrics, that might not be the worst thing.
Evil Dead: The Musical is going to work only if your give yourself over to it unreservedly … and if you’re looking for a good time, I strongly recommend that you do. Or, as the unseen demons sing, “Join us!”