Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: (Calgary) Evil Dead: The Musical

Bloody Hell!
by Joe Vermeulen
Evil Dead the Musical is back to swallow Calgary’s soul! A hilarious romp through the highlights of the “Evil Dead” movie franchises, Evil Dead the Musical (EDTM) documents the story of a group of friends who go to an old “Cabin in the Woods” for a Spring break vacation. Ash along with his girlfriend Linda and their friend Scott with his “Girl I picked up drunk at a bar three days ago” Shelly, and Ash’s sister Cheryl are expecting a week of drinking and sex, but instead unwittingly stir up a historic evil. The show does a good job of sending up the historic clichés of the genre; for example as soon as the group enters the cabin a ghostly voice cries out “Join Us”, which immediately makes Cheryl want to go home instead of investigate. Along the same lines the next time the ghostly voice calls out, Cheryl says what everyone is thinking: “Now mother always said that whenever you hear a dark threatening and ghostly voice coming from the dark woods there is only one thing you should do. Not wake the others and go investigate it alone”. While there are some serious scenes from the movies in the show, such as the chase through the forest, director Mike Griffin lets the atmosphere get just scary enough before immediately switching gears and letting the laughs flow. However, the number of “In one” scene changes started to feel a little tiresome after the fourth or fifth time they were used, and kept the pace of some scene transitions very slow. That being said, the show is awesomely campy and hilarious. 
The show fits the Pumphose Theatre’s mainspace perfectly.
Leading the cast is Bart Kwiatkowski’s Ash. While all of the other cast members can go nuts once turned into demons, Ash has to be the straight man for the entire show. All of the parts of the parody onstage that Ash is involved with cannot appear to be a send up. Kwiatkowski keeps all of the jokes believable, in so far as one can expect someone to react having all his friends turn into demons. Vocally Kwiatkowski is very strong; he was one of the few of the cast that did not seem to have a problem with his microphones. (More on that later).
The rest of the ensemble are also very strong. Notable performances are Mallory Minerson’s pun slinging Cheryl, Brent Gill’s Jake, and Alyssa Billngsley’s Annie. All of the ensemble are vocally proficient and the harmonies were spot on. The dances and choreographed moments were flawless. More importantly, the entire cast and crew seemed to just love what they were doing, and gave the impression that not only were they having a good time, that there was nowhere else they wanted to be right then than there doing this show for us. Seeing this belief in the material and the show leads to the full-out energy that a show like this one requires to avoid feeling flat and humourless.
The piece fits the Pumphose Theatre’s mainspace perfectly. Luke Dhalgren’s lighting design was effective in not only keeping the show focused and illuminating the performers (as all lighting design is supposed to do) but was also able to seamlessly transition from the serious moments of the show to the send-ups and effects. Michael Gesy’s sound design however had some serious issues. Half of the cast sounded tinny and musically sharp, which certainly detracted from songs such as “Bit Part Demon”. 
The band was sadly all pre-recorded and seemed to be bounced out of someone's copy of Logic instead of having been recorded by a real band. The band tracks did not have nearly the same energy as the performers and at times that led to a strange disconnect. The omission of a live band, likely due to cost, was unfortunate. It has been my experience that live bands will draw energy off of the performers and between the two groups the show will be much livelier and exciting. It is a shame that a show with as many catchy songs as this was let down by the lack of a band. 
There are several effects such as the entire set seeming to come alive, blood effects, some excellent puppet moments and of course the required trap door, and all are used effectively, letting you believe that in their world some evil is taking place.
While the show is hilarious, it is certainly not a place for young children. There is lots cursing and sexual innuendo, including a full-on simulated demon orgy during the song “Necronomicon”. There is also a rape scene involving trees. Yup. They go there.  And there is blood. Lots and lots of blood. All of this is excellent if you are a fan of the franchise or horror movies in general, but be forewarned that they are there if you are not as familiar with the show. 
A word on Blood:
As some readers might know EDTM is well known for having a “Splatter Zone” where audience members can expect to be covered in blood not only from the action on the stage but from cast members entering the zone and covering the audience in their blood. There is so much of the stuff that once covered the audience is not allowed back into the lobby of the theatre, and the entire stage and front section of the audience is covered in a big puddle of it. Audience members in the zone (and everyone in the zone knows what they are getting into) mostly wear white to let the blood show clearly. At the show I saw a just married couple, still in their wedding dress/tux combo sitting in the front row and got drenched, loving it the whole time. 
Overall if zombie movies are your thing, or you just want a fun show to see, EDTM is recommended for you. If blood makes you squeamish then stay away from the Pumphouse area because the “deadites” are there, and they want your soul.

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