Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Evil Dead: The Musical
It spoils you like the undead. Like you've been lying in the ground too long with Anton Chekhov or Henrik Ibsen till you're just a mass of rotting flesh. And then every time you rise up out of your crypt of theatrical greatness and go to a show that's just a lot of fun, you find you've been ruined by great theater, itself. You can only think of Chekhov and Ibsen, and sit there watching some unalterable goofiness, groaning, "brains, brains, BRAINS!"
Well, of course, Evil Dead: The Musical is not great theatre. But it is a great time, full of outrageous, anguished performances and lots and lots of ridiculously inventive momentsand fun songs and a huge helping of old fashioned "must be Halloween again," PG-rated horror.
It also takes a helluva lot of brains to seem so clueless up there on stage: to break into a remote cabin in the woods, but also to time it all out so perfectly that people transform into zombies when you least expect it; and then unexpectedly transform back, owing to some arcane rules of zombihood that you and I are too innocent to understand. And to do it all while singing and dancing, too. (The lyrics are by librettist George Reinblatt, with music by Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond and Melissa Morris.)
Paul Cereghino is a young actor who seems like he can do anything perfectly, even if it's just leading that group of crazy kids to that remote cabin where they discover (spoiler alert) "The Book of the Dead," which (spoiler alert) awakens the very stagey horrors of Hell for them all. I'm not a fan of B-movie horror, but I somehow feel I understand the genre a lot better now. It still doesn't make any more sense, but I'm finally at peace with that, at least. And, in the process, Evil Dead: The Musical drives a (well-deserved) stake right through the heart of teen horror.
Justin Been directs this glorious mess, which involves not a little gushing blood and not a few severed heads. There are almost always a lot of very hard-working people behind the scenes of any production, and I usually don't mention assistant directors at all (in spite of their long hours of service), but in Evil Dead the A.D. is Anna Skidis, who is on stage tooterrific as Mr. Cereghino's "fifth wheel" of a sister. As Cheryl, she's clueless about teenagers' libidinous natures, but strangely wise in sensing the impending disaster. For all the good it does her ...
It's hard to single out any of the other cast members, as it's an extremely solid bunch (as always at Stray Dog), featuring Zachary Stefaniak as a dangerous-looking rustic and Mike Wells as the nice young man, defiantly standing against his own expendability, even as the zombies' numbers grow.
I have to say the last five to seven minutes dragged rather badly for me, though. To be specific, as all the zombies are there on stage, and the "last man standing" is (spoiler alert) in severe danger, it all just begins to languish. I had this rude impulse to get up and re-direct the whole scene, so there would be some movement, some indication of pursuit or entrapment, to heighten the drama.
And the big finale after that just goes on and on. Otherwise, I was very happy with Jamie Lynn Marble's choreographyMr. Cereghino's "tango" with C.E. Fifer is particularly great. And overall it's a lot of fun, with a surprisingly nice bunch of songs and humor, very good performances, and a lot of genuine (and not-so-genuine) shocks along the way.
Through November 2, 2013, at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave. For more information visit www.straydogtheatre.org.
Cast (in order of appearance)
The Evil Dead Band