Back during Hollywood’s Golden Age, studios regularly raided the boards of Broadway for source material for their films. However, with the recent success Mel Brooks had in bringing his hit 1968 comedy The Producers to the Great White Way, the flow has seemingly reversed and Broadway producers are mining recognizable Hollywood hits for stage adaptations. A walk through midtown Manhattan’s theatre district will reveal marquees for numerous stage versions of well known films- Spamalot (an adaptation of Monty Python And The Holy Grail), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Color Purple, The Wedding Singer, Disney’s Tarzan and The Lion King as well as the upcoming High Fidelity and Secondhand Lions.
This week a new and rather unusual movie inspired show opened to preview audiences at off-Broadway’s New World Stages- Evil Dead: The Musical. An hysterical romp where a spring vacation trip to a spooky cabin in the woods turns into a nightmare of demon possession, dismemberment and snappy dance numbers, Evil Dead: The Musical manages the seemingly impossible- transforming a stylized horror comedy into a rollicking musical comedy that manages to stay faithful to its highly different the source material.
Originally mounted in Toronto in 2003 and then at the 2004 Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, the play skillfully combines plot elements from the first two of director Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films as well as incorporates a few elements from the franchise’s third installment Army Of Darkness (1992). While the first Evil Dead (1981) film was played fairly straight, the second installment definitely amped the comedy elements, resulting in a splatter film as made by the Three Stooges. The stage play’s script steers towards the more comedic interpretation and is smart enough to knowingly wink at the audience over any lapses of story logic. The show’s book also fleshes out the movies’ characters a bit before making them gist for the Grand Guignol mill.
The opening night performance encountered a few minor technical snafus, but the cast braved through them. Truth be told, some technical flubs could easily be interpreted as the stage equivalent of the film series’ sometimes clunky, low-budget effects, so any unexpected mechanical effect failure could conceivably fit right in with the spirit of the piece.
The cast acquitted themselves nicely, with a few adroitly handling double rolls. Ryan Ward, the show’s only holdover from its Toronto run, is tasked with unenviable job of stepping into the shoes of a character that Bruce Campbell has made a film icon. Ward manages to play Ash in a way that evokes Campbell but never allows things to devolve into a bad Campbell impression. Also of special note is Jenna Coker, who, as Ash’s younger sister Cheryl, is transformed into a foul-mouthed, pun spewing demon. Coker throws herself into her performance with an energetic physicality that amazes.
There were plenty of fans of the Evil Dead films at the show’s opening preview night audience. (One guy, right, even showed up dressed as Campbell’s Ash.) Alternately cheering or shouting along with some of the series’ more iconic lines of dialogue, they gave the performance an almost Rocky Horror Picture Show-like atmosphere. The cast at times seemed surprised by the crowd’s enthusiasm; no more so than during the curtain call when they received a standing ovation.
And then there’s the “splatter zone”.
Those familiar with the Evil Dead films know that Raimi was fond of splashing the fake blood around and the stage version takes equal glee in splashing the red stuff around. The theatre is warning patrons that the first three rows from the stage have been designated the “Splatter Zone” and to dress accordingly. If you can’t figure out why, you may to seriously thing about sitting further back. I have to admit that the splatter effects that were supposed to splash the audience were a little anemic on opening night. I was sitting directly in the second row in front of the cellar trap door and barely got a few drops on me. Fortunately, while chatting with some of the actors afterwards, I was assured that they were still trying to find the right amount of blood to pump and that things would be messier in future performances.
Evil Dead: The Musical will run through previews for the rest of October before beginning its open-ended run on November 1. If you’re anywhere within sane traveling distance of New York City, you need to see this show as soon as possible. If you’re live an insane traveling distance of New York City, do something crazy and come to Manhattan to see this show.
There has been some talk of Raimi producing a remake of the original Evil Dead film, allowing some new young director to bring his vision to the story. I would say that a new vision has already been brought to the Evil Dead franchise and its playing out every night at a theater on New York City’s 50th street.