EVIL DEAD, THE MUSICAL with Broadway In Chicago, Theatre Review – A Bloody Awful Show

 

Let’s face it: Evil Dead: the Musical is… well… Evil Dead: the Musical. It’s a show where the box office asks you when order tickets if you’d like to sit in the “splatter zone” (a section in the first few rows of the house where in the climax of Act 2 those sitting there get drenched in blood that resembles artificial strawberry jelly. The theatre even sells ponchos for $7 in the lobby during intermission). That alone should probably diminish any expectations you might have coming into this show. You’re definitely not going to be experiencing a moving and insightful night of theatre. Instead what you’ll be seeing is an intentionally stupid and immature parody of the cult-classic Evil Dead “horror” flicks - I use the term “horror” in quotations because the films themselves are 1980s, low-budget, and they’re pretty much already parodies on the horror genre itself. So while this show is not meant to be great theatre, just brainless camp, what I saw on stage on opening night wasn’t humorous, silly, campy, or fun at all. It was just straight up bad theatre. And I mean really bad.

 

David Sajewich (Ash) and Callie Johnson (Annie)

 

I would venture to say that Evil Dead: the Musical ranks right up there with one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. How the producers ever thought this would make a great non-equity tour is a major mystery to me. While it is nice to see the Broadway Playhouse up and running again, anything would have been better than this piece of garbage. In fact a lot of Evil Dead: the Musical was seriously just hard to watch. Not because we see the characters getting butchered on stage one by one, but because of how badly they butchered this entire show. I’m not kidding. It was painful to sit through. Nothing in this badly directed, poorly acted, and cheaply conceived production was even the slightest bit amusing - it was just downright embarrassing.

 

The cast of Evil Dead: the Musical

 

The plot of the musical is a combination of many Evil Dead movies into one… that probably explains why it’s all so disjointed. The main story here deals with five teenagers consisting of Ash (David Sajewich), an S-Mart employee who is our hero of the story, Linda (Julie Baird) his loving girlfriend that he met at work, Ash’s dorky younger sister Cheryl (Demi Zanio), and his annoying buddy Scott (Craig Sclavi) who brings along his own girl, Shelly (Callie Johnson), a blonde bimbo to the most extreme level. All five of these teens break into an old cabin deep in the woods and come across a book and tape recording that brings out an evil demonic spirit that takes possession of them. Some other stuff happens too including a visit by three outsiders which includes the cabin owner’s daughter Annie (also played by Callie Johnson), her underused assistant Ed (Ryan McBride), and a random small-town local hick named Jake (Andrew Di Rosa) all of whom become possessed as well.

 

To be honest none of it really matters. Most people aren’t coming to this show for the story, and I’m guessing most are Evil Dead dedicated fanatics that know the stories in and out (I really have to wonder whether there are enough of them for this tour to make any sort of profit). However if you are going to this in order to see a great story I’d strongly advise you to go running the other way and fast. This show doesn’t make any sense. Yes, I realize that’s more of a reflection of the source material than this show, but it’s still unfair to any unsuspecting theatregoers who have to shell out almost $70 for a ticket to see it.

 

David Sajewich (Ash)

 

Christopher Bond’s direction here is all-around atrocious. While I normally would fault the material for most of the problems with this show I do have to take note that there have been hundreds of successful productions of Evil Dead: The Musical that have been performed across the country over these past 7 years, including a long run Off-Broadway. So the faults here seem to be with the direction this production took, which is surprising considering Bond is one of the creators and he directed the original Canadian production.

 

What Bond seems unware of is that even in satirical parodies there still needs to be elements of truth (just look at the terrific parodies that Seth MacFarland did on the Star Wars franchise). Instead what we get here are performers forced to play all of their overdone actions to the most fake exaggerated extremes that you can imagine. It makes children’s cartoons look tame in comparison. Bond’s production is way too self-aware of its own campiness which only adds to the awkwardness of watching it all unfold. The experience is kind of like watching one of those poorly done SNL sketches where everyone is trying so desperately hard to make us laugh, yet everything just falls flat.

 

The cast of Evil Dead: the Musical

 

Now, I understand that Evil Dead: the Musical is literally just poking fun of the already absurd film franchise. So naturally the stage musical adaption will be “over-the-top” with its nonsensical antics and ridiculousness. But even still there were many times watching this production that I wondered to myself whether a group of middle school boys penned this script together. There were a plethora of vulgar and tasteless boob and dick jokes strewn all over that literally produced more audible sighs in the house than genuine laughter.

 

The jokes, if you can call them that, are reduced to the most basic clichéd stereotypes that you can imagine. Instead of playing around with sexual innuendos and situations, the performers shove them down your throat. There’s a whole host of tastelessness here: simulated oral sex, some “motor-boating” breasts, using breasts as drums, girls stripping off pieces of clothes out of nowhere, phallic props, an over-abundance of crotch kicking, crotch jerking, crotch groping, and pretty much anything else crotch related. And if that’s not enough Ms. Johnson’s character Shelly licks up something she finds on her face after a quick rendezvous in the woods. I’d rather not say what it is, but you get the picture. All that’s missing from this script are flatulent jokes and you’d have the work of a 15 year old.

 

Andrew Di Rosa (Jake), David Sajewich (Ash), and Callie Johnson (Annie)

 

There are many good reasons to feel embarrassed for these young performers who are forced to act in such an amateur and overplayed way. The cast for this non-equity tour is made up entirely of Chicago performers, which only makes us feel worse since we’re seeing such great local talent drown in a huge hunk of absolute garbage. There were moments when you almost want to just throw them some life jackets so they could swim to safety.

 

I have to say this is the worst work I’ve seen from everyone in this cast. In particular is Callie Johnson, a phenomenal actress who has really made a name for herself here in the city, and rightly so. However watching her bounce her boobs around on stage in such a sexist way is just too humiliating to watch. David Sajewich, one of the best male leads in Chicago, has some fine moments that are peppered throughout (particularly when his left hand becomes possessed), but his good moments are mostly overshadowed by his forceful over-the-top acting which was too ridiculous to be anything close to enjoyable. The same goes for Andrew Di Rosa whose character Jake had a lot of potential but was reduced to cardboard stereotypes that became irritating by the end of the show.

 

The rest of the cast was indeed enthusiastic, so much so that it was like they were performing in a theme park. It was more cheesy than satirical. Granted most of the cast probably doesn’t care just how bad this show is because they’re getting to go on tour doing what they love and making a good paycheck doing it (never a bad thing for any actor). Sadly this production isn’t anything they should be proud of though. The work here is degrading to each and every one of these performers. I realize the problems here aren't their fault. They were clearly misguided in their choices and style by terrible direction. But from having seen nearly all of these performers on stage before, I know that they are capable of doing so much better work than this, and indeed they deserve better than this.

 

The cast of Evil Dead: the Musical

 

As for the music, which features songs such as “What the F*** Was That?” and “Blew That B**** Away”, I would like to comment on these except that on the night I attended there were some serious sound issues that made a majority of the songs completely inaudible (especially the first 15 minutes). This is in no small part due to Michael Laird’s horrendous sound design that was flawed throughout. Some of the mics were not working at all while others gave off an echo warble sound that made everything impossible to comprehend. The sound issues were so bad that we missed important plot points. One woman seated near me whispered about 30 times into her friend’s ear “what did they say?” during Act 1. I noticed they both left at intermission and I'll consider them lucky.

 

If the sound issues weren’t bad enough as it is, all of the songs are done to a pre-recorded accompanied tape. So it’s kind of like paying $70 to watch karaoke. It wouldn’t be so bad if Mr. Laird could find a way to mix the sound levels to where things could actually be understood. Instead the music was drowning out the singers to such a degree that entire songs got lost in the shuffle. I feel the most sorry for Creg Sclavi, the actor playing Scott, because not a single vocal of his could be heard throughout this entire production. Mind you I was sitting in the center just outside of the “splatter zone” and yet I still struggled to hear everything. This is unacceptable.

 

The cast of Evil Dead: the Musical

 

Normally I would never ever advise drinking during a performance, but in this case it might not be a bad idea if someone drags you kicking and screaming to go see it. After all, this is one of those theatres where there’s a bar in the lobby and they actually encourage you to bring your drinks into the house. I had to take note that only the more inebriated members of the audience seemed to be having a good time on opening night. They were the fortunate ones. As for the rest of us we just had to sit there suffering in sober solitude until it was finally over after 2 excruciating long hours.

 

Bottom Line: Evil Dead: The Musical is NOT RECOMMENDED. Enough said.

 

Evil Dead: The Musical – Broadway in Chicago

Running Time: 2 hours including a 20 minute intermission

Location: Broadway Playhouse – 175 E. Chestnut Avenue, Chicago, IL (in Water Tower Place across from the John Hancock Building).

Runs through: October 12, 2014

Curtain TimesTuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays – 7:30 PM, Fridays and Saturdays – 7:00 PM and 10:30 PM, Sundays – 3:00 PM

Tickets: $29.00 - $67.99, with additional seating options in the “Splatter Zone” – A select number of premium seats are also available for many performances. Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Office locations (24 W. Randolph St, 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St., and 175 E. Chestnut), by calling the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000, at all Ticketmaster retail locations, or by ordering online (see link above).

Group Tickets: Tickets are now available for groups of 10 or more by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710.

 

Book and Lyrics by George Reinblatt Music by Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris, and George Reinblatt, Directed by Christopher Bond, Choreography by Stacey Renee Maroske

Music Direction by Aaron Eyre, Scenic and Costume Design by Lindsay Anne Black, Lighting Design by Gareth Crew, Sound Design by Michael Laird, Stage Management by Phoebe Harper, Fight Choreography by Kevin Robinson, FX Props by Scott Patterson and Marina Snider, Music Supervision by Framl Cipolla

Cast includes: Julie Baird (Linda), Ryan Czerwonko (Swing/Fake Shemp), Andrew Di Rosa (Jake), Callie Johnson (Shelly/Annie), Jessica Kingsdale (Swing), Ryan McBride (Ed/Moose), David Sajewich (Ash), Creg Sclavi (Scott), Demi Zaino (Cheryl)

 

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