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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Evil Dead: The Musical
Brelby Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of The Music of Billy Joel starring Michael Cavanaugh and Rathmines Road

Cameron Bloom and Jaraliese Albeza
Photo by Sarah Bary
The 1981 horror film The Evil Dead was made for less than $100,000 but went on to become a cult classic hit. It also inspired other films and TV shows, and spawned sequels, comic books, video games, and a TV show spinoff of its own. As is also sometimes the case with a successful film, it was also the basis for a satirical musical comedy, appropriately called Evil Dead: The Musical. While it won't ever be compared to a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein show, this musical spoof written by Christopher Bond, Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris, and George Reinblatt makes for two very fun hours in the theatre. Brelby Theatre Company's production has a cast who throw themselves into the absurd hijinks of the plot with glee. There is plenty of blood that occasionally shoots out into the audience and many fun, low-budget theatrical touches that play right into the low budget nature of the original film.

The plot is based mainly on the first film in the series, with a few added characters and plot elements from the film sequels. It tells the story of Ash and his friends, a group of college kids who are planning to spend their school beak in an abandoned cabin in the woods. Shortly after they unpack their things, they discover some left behind items in the cellar of the house, including an old book and a tape recorder. When they play the tape, they hear the voice of an archaeologist who tells them the book is the "Book of the Dead." The words from the book the archaeologist speaks on the tape release evil forces, making the trees outside the cabin come alive, which traps the coeds in the cabin not allowing them to leave. It also unleashes the undead. Ash does what he can to ward off the demons as his friends, one by one, succumb to the forces of evil.

The first Evil Dead movie was frightening but also offbeat, absurd, highly entertaining, and somewhat odd. The stage musical is all of those things as well. The musical's creators wisely chose to craft a show that spoofs and sends up the film franchise in a loving way instead of attempting to recreate the horrific events in the movies on stage. That's a wise choice, since humor is often much easier to achieve on stage than horror. While the songs aren't entirely memorable, they have some fun and funny lyrics and most are short, so they don't get in the way of the forward-moving thrust of the bloodletting frenzy. You don't need to be familiar with the films in order to have a good time, though you'll miss some of the in jokes and famous lines. If you've seen the three films, you'll most likely appreciate how the creators of the musical have managed to combine characters and situations from all three to deliver a fairly cohesive plot that culminates in an ending that has some clarity, while the first film had a fairly uncertain conclusion.

Director Brian Maticic ensures the comic moments in the show get big laughs while his fight choreography delivers exuberant fight and horror sequences. His set design works well to portray the main room of the cabin and, with just the simple use of a curtain that gets pulled across the cabin set, the wooded areas outside. The cast all sound fairly good, with bright vocals on all of their songs under Helen Morris' music direction. Kayleen Harshbarger's costumes and the lighting by Tyler Miller play up both the comical and the horror tones in the show. Shelby Huston's hair and make-up include some hilarious designs once the demons take over the college kids. I don't know if prop designer Jen Gantwerker or Maticic is responsible for the copious amounts of blood in the show, but whoever is behind it should be commended for its bright red color and ability to shoot out into the audience. It's also washable and edible, we're told in the pre-show speech.

The characters in the film series were modeled off of familiar ones from dozens of other horror movies, and the Brelby cast are having a blast recreating these recognizable individuals. As our hero Ash, Cameron Bloom exhibits a perfect stance as the anti-hero who is also, occasionally, a smart ass and wise guy. Bloom has a lot of fun reciting his dialogue, which includes some of the famous lines Ash uttered in the films. Issie Ocampo is hilarious as Ash's annoying sister Cheryl, who speaks in bad puns when she's turned into a member of the undead. Jaraliese Albeza is strong but also, appropriately, irritating as Annie, the archaeologist's overbearing daughter who is in search of her father, while Kevin Fenderson is amusing as her constantly ignored fiancé Ed, whom Annie doesn't ever let finish a sentence. Fenderson's expertly sung solo, "Bit Part Demon," is a humorous highlight. As Ash's girlfriend Linda, Karla Benitez Orellana is bright-eyed and loving until she becomes a member of the undead. Clayton Caufman is charming as Jake, the man they find in the woods who helps guide them to the cabin once the bridge has been taken out by the undead. Rounding out the cast are Ben Cleaveland as Ash's horny, over-sexed buddy Scott and Sarah Bary who is hilarious as Scott's ditzy and clueless girlfriend Shelly, whom he just met three days before.

The beauty of Evil Dead: The Musical is that it doesn't attempt to take itself seriously and doesn't try to be anything other than a fun satire of a highly successful film franchise. The musical, and Brelby's fun production, achieve that task incredibly well.

Evil Dead: The Musical runs through October 13, 2019, at Brelby Theatre Company, 7154 N 58th Drive, Glendale AZ. Tickets and information are available at or by phone at 623-282-2781

Music by Christopher Bond, Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris and George Reinblatt
Book and lyrics by George Reinblatt
Director / Scenic Design / Fight Choreographer: Brian Maticic
Music Director: Helen Morris
Lighting Designer: Tyler Miller
Props Design: Jen Gantwerker
Costume Designer: Kayleen Harshbarger
Hair & Makeup Designer: Shelby Huston
Sound Design: Anabel Olguin

Ash: Cameron Bloom
Linda: Karla Benitez Orellana
Cheryl: Issie Ocampo
Scott: Ben Cleaveland
Ed: Kevin Fenderson
Annie: Jaraliese Albeza
Jake: Clayton Caufman
Shelly: Sarah Bary

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