Daniel Williston (photo by David Hou)
Toronto favourite still has its weak spots, but there’s no denying it’s a fun night out.
by Christian Baines
It seems pretty redundant to assess the strengths of Evil Dead’s writing as a musical now. The semi-original Canadian camp-fest has been touring with incredible success since 2003. If audience enthusiasm at the Randolph Theatre on Tuesday night is any indication, there’s still quite a bit to come. That’s not to give the show a free pass, but understand that at this stage of its life, Evil Dead is as much a raucous cult experience as it is a musical.
It belongs to that most difficult, yet persistent genre, the bloody B-grader – though if you’re going in expecting another Little Shop of Horrors, Bat Boy, or even Reefer Madness, it may be time to adjust your expectations. Evil Dead has a few well publicized tricks up its sleeve that these shows don’t, but its book and score don’t aim for anywhere near say, Bat Boy’s level of character development or sophisticated snark. The score doesn’t particularly grasp for originality and the lyrics contain as many forced moments as they do inspired ones. Henry Winkler? Yeah... even Ash (Ryan Ward) calls them out – in character – on that one.
But damn if the end result isn’t bloody good fun!
Despite its shortcomings, Evil Dead remains a (mostly) smart parody of the horror favourite, and it’s hard to not be at least a bit drawn by the promise of the show’s much touted ‘splatter zone’ (front three rows of the centre orchestra – though containment to this zone is certainly not guaranteed). The show rises to the occasion on both counts, thanks to a capable, enthusiastic cast led by Ward. Having originated the role of Ash, he attacks the part like he’s sharing top billing with Bugs Bunny, recalling much of what makes Evil Dead 2 in particular such a great cult experience. He also never tries to slavishly mimic Bruce Campbell, and his Ash is all the more believable for it.
Still, assuming subsequent performances can get these imbalances under control, Evil Dead is a musical night out unlike any other you’ll probably see. What the jokes lack in consistency, they make up for in delivery, and I defy anyone not to leave the Randolph Theatre with a big, gore-soaked grin on their face.
Evil Dead the Musical plays until December 22 at the Randolph Theatre.