UW-Madison's "Evil Dead: The Musical" is a Campy, Bloody Good Time
It’s not often that the men’s magazine Maxim makes its way into arts and culture criticism, but that noted periodical told its discerning readers that Evil Dead: The Musical is “one musical you’ll actually want to see.”
After seeing University Theatre/UW-Madison’s Department of Theatre and Drama’s send-up of low-budget, campy, trope-filled and blood-soaked horror films, I admit, I agree with Maxim. You do want to see it, whether you are a fan of horror movies, corny dialogue, Candarian demons, musical parodies, “splatter zones,” SNL sketches or Scooby-Doo episodes where the gang in the mystery machine has to fight off woodsy zombies with power tools.
The parody premiered in a bar in Toronto in 2003, and now has had more than 500 productions around the world, including an “ultimate 4D experience” in Las Vegas. Loosely based on the Evil Dead trilogy of films that established Sam Raimi as a director, the script practically writes itself. Like all silly horror movies it involves a bunch of horny teenagers breaking into an abandoned cabin in the woods with some pretty suspicious furnishings: an axe, a gun, a chainsaw, a book of ancient spells, a creepy tape left behind by the archaeologist who found the cursed book and then disappeared, and the largest stuffed moose head known to man.
To this ultra-spooky set, add one sex-obsessed bro (Tanner Zocher), his dumb blonde recent hook-up (Elaine Knaus), his good egg best friend Ash (Cobi Tappa), Ash’s bookish sister (Josie Brandmeier) and Ash’s cutie-pie co-worker/best girl (Faith Fuller). As soon as the first aw-shucks love duet is over, the haunting — and the body count — begins in earnest.
Scenic designer Keith Pitts has created a fully animated haunted house for a set, complete with walls that shake, pictures that spin, doors that rattle and taxidermy that comes to life. Costume designer Shannon Heibler also adds to the fun with plenty of tear-away costume bits (post-demon battle), an MSU sweatshirt to pay homage to the original films, and forest goblin attire that’s both scary and goofy. The black-sequined jackets give the dance number, “Do the Necronomicon,” real pizazz. Choreographer Sara Bartlett also put together some “thrilling” dance moves that definitely rival Rocky Horror’s “Time Warp.”
Director Jace Nichols clearly encouraged the cast to embrace their characters, playing up the cheesiness and the ridiculousness of the genre. With gallons of fake blood spurting from severed heads, intestines and other appendages, the cast members play their stock characters to the hilt.
As our zombie vanquishing hero Ash, Tappa drips Hollywood idol charm, even as he does battle with his own possessed hand. And it’s fun to hate Zocher as the “stupid bitch”-flinging bro, who saves his best moves for an entrail-heavy death scene and some sick undead dancing. As the missing archaeologist’s daughter, Caitlin Rowe also goes all in as a Type A Buffy, singing about how often this kind of apocalypse ruins her dates. And Ben Jaeger is adorable as the constantly interrupted sidekick, Ed, who turns out to be only a “Bit Part Demon.”
The only thing this show was missing during a recent Sunday matinee was a rowdy crowd to cheer on the mayhem. So go find this cabin in the woods with a few of your friends, before it’s too late.