Review: ‘Evil Dead — the Musical.’ Deadly? Or just evil?

 Ryan Ward in

Ryan Ward in "Evil Dead — the Musical" at the Prince Music Theater. (Photo courtesy of the Prince Music Theater)

Take cold comfort in the fact that “Evil Dead – the Musical” – a piece of juvenile, B-grade Grizzly Kitsch playing here in a dumpy production – was created in Canada and not in the United States. On the other hand, that makes it not just questionable theater but an unfortunate international incident.

Still, I can’t figure out whether the show is downright awful or if I happened to see it Tuesday on a particularly bad night. I write that because “Evil Dead – the Musical” had some flashes of fun but was overwhelmed by a production with rotten sound – the entire show came across like one of those illegally taped big-hall concerts, with a soundtrack that seems to be recorded somewhere under the earth’s surface.

Sometimes, you could hear some of the characters and not others; at other moments, a few were distortedly over-amplified. The pre-recorded orchestral accompaniment to the music, which four people are credited for composing, worked normally throughout, so it tended to drown out all the sound-streams that didn’t. When the performers sang together – and it seems as though this cast has great voices, but who knows? – they came through as one big aural blur. If “Evil Dead” is a show that furthers its plot through its lyrics, I couldn’t tell you. I bet no on else in the audience could, either.

Those lyrics, as well as the book for the show, are by George Reinblatt, and the few I could make out seemed to do little to further anything in this show that runs too long to keep its air-head inflated at two hours. That plot has five college kids taking a vacation in a house deep in the woods – it’s empty, so they just barge in. It’s also haunted, and worse. A moose-head talks from the wall, the trees outside chase people, one of the characters’ own hands eventually tries to choke him. (Unsuccessfully, alas.)

Some brute negative force takes the characters over – “look who’s evil now!” they shout about themselves as one by one, they morph into murderous demons by donning pathetic murderous-demon face-masks. The show, first presented in Toronto 10 years ago, has a penchant for middle-school sex jokes, and sometimes maimed body-parts fly around. None of these is a brain, even if “Evil Dead” gives a literal meaning to no-brainer.

The cabin set (Lindsay Anne Black’s design) is excellent, and so is the appearance and volume of the stage blood, which is tossed and sprayed into the first few rows of the revitalized Prince Music Theater, where “Evil Dead” launches the first season of shows in several years. The audience members in those rows clearly enjoy being in the splatter zone, which comes with plastic sheeting as minor protection. When the blood spews, it sometimes comes from a character’s costume, sometimes from pipes at the front of the stage or from above.

“Evil Dead” is bloated with flimsy jokes – did you know that if someone named Dawn kills you, you are dead by Dawn? – plus potty-mouthed incantations, a plot that goes in circles and low-tech special-effects, some of them funny. It also has remarkably solid choreography by Stacey Renee Maroske, particularly in the second half. But other more recent faux horror shows outclass “Evil Dead” – if something called “Re-Animator, the Musical” comes around, go see it and sit in its front-row splatter zone. “Evil Dead” can’t even begin to match the cleverness of the granddaddy of them all, the musical it mimics most closely: “The Rocky Horror Show.” For my part, let’s do the Time Warp again._

“Evil Dead – the Musical” runs through October 20 at the Prince Music Theater, on Chestnut Street between Broad and 15th Streets. 215-893-1999 or princemusictheater.org.

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