By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
October is upon us and many of us are settling in for a month of scary movie nights, road trips to haunted attractions, decking our homes out with fake spider webs and carved pumpkins, and everything else that is Halloween. Autumn is my absolute favorite time of year and part of this affinity has to do with this frightening holiday! Red Branch Theatre Company‘s latest gory offering, Evil Dead the Musical, Directed and Choreographed by Jenny Male with Music Direction by Aaron Broderick is just what is needed to get the October festivities started and just hits the spooky spot!
If you haven’t at least heard of the 1981 cult hit film Evil Dead and its subsequent sequels and reboots, you had to have been living under a rock for the last 35 years, but, seriously… its a campy horror classic that you should have on your list of films to see before you die. It’s so popular, premium cable network STARZ premiered a new TV show called Ash vs. Evil Dead, based on the film. Both this TV show and the original film star Bruce Campbell as Ash, the unlikely hero, who fights “deadites” to save the world , whether he likes it or not.
Red Branch Theatre Company brings this cult classic to the stage brilliantly and this is an experience you don’t want to miss!
Special Effects and Make up really drive this type of show and Hannah Fogler knocked it out of the park with her ingenuity and creativity. At its core, Evil Dead the Musical is a gory, blood-soaked supernatural tale and Fogler completely embraces this. There’s only so much blood and gore one can produce on the stage for a live performance (unless you’re a certain barber on Fleet Street), but Fogler manages to give us just the right amount without making it look too fake or hokey but enough to add value to the production and not take away from the other elements of the production. Zombies are all the rage these days and, if you are unfamiliar with Evil Dead, “deadites” are pretty much zombies and Fogler’s Make-Up Design clinches the look impeccably. With the help of masks, the transitions of the actors is flawless and the Special Effects and Makeup are certainly technical highlights of this production. You’ve been warned! If you’re squeamish, be prepared for the squirting blood and guts that accompany this brilliant piece.
Set Design by Ryan Haase is nothing short of superb, using levels, the appropriate cool, earthy, woodsy colors of an old, semi-abandoned cabin in the woods, easy entrances and exits to move the action along smoothly, and movable wall art (Yep! You read that correctly!). The space at Red Branch Theatre Company is already a great space for the productions they offer, but Haase has managed to completely turn this stage into the cabin where this crazy story takes place. His eye for detail is extraordinary and he utilizes his space wisely to match the challenges of the setting of this production. Kudos to Haase for his creative eye and smart set design.
Lighting Design by Lynn Joslin effectively captures the creepiness of the setting and set the mood with the dim lighting and use of strobe effects during certain points in the piece giving us a dark wood on a stormy night. Joslin’s design was very appropriate and provided added value to this production.
Costume Designer Andrew Malone did a very good job dressing his actors in costumes that are modern but have a nostalgic flair that’s absolutely fitting for this piece. The actors look very comfortable in their respective costumes and move about effortlessly. Notably, the character of Ash had an ensemble that near perfectly matched Bruce Campbell’s attire in the film and Malone is to be commended for his eye for detail.
Jenny Male tackles the double duty of Director and Choreographer and she does a phenomenal job. She takes this familiar, campy tale and transfers it to the stage flawlessly. She keeps the story moving and seems to understand the type of dark humor overflowing in this piece but keeps it together with clever blocking and a spot on casting. It’s challenging to take a piece of popular culture and present it in a new way but Male changes aspects of the story that have to be changed to update and/or fit the stage and keeps beloved aspects of the story intact for the die-hard fans of the original films. The balance is superb and make for a very successful production.
The choreography is just about as campy as the show itself but it works perfectly! The cast seems to have a great time with the dance numbers and I had a great time watching them. They’re upbeat and energized, and just a bit chintzy when they need to be! Kudos to Jenny Male for a job well done.
Under the Music Direction of Aaron Broderick, this ensemble sounds amazing. The score is very good, but campy, but Broderick had this cast in harmony and on point with this piece. The style is modern but still very musical theatre and, as with choreography, the cast seems to have a blast while performing these songs and with songs with titles such as “What the Fuck Was That?” and “Do the Necronomicon”… how could one not have a great time?
Though there is what many would consider a main character (Ash), this is truly an ensemble piece and this entire ensemble has great chemistry and they all work well together. It’s a joy to watch them interact, play off of, and support each other, just as a tight-knit cast should.
Peter Boyer, Cole Watts, and Sarah Luckadoo bring up the “chorus” or ensemble of this cast, but that certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t essential to this piece.
Peter Boyer takes on the role of Jake and, though his character seemed a little out of place as a reliable hillbilly who happens to be wandering in the same woods as the abandoned cabin, he played the role well, giving 100% and his comedic timing was spot on. His number “Good Old Reliable Jake” seemed to be filler, to me, but he performed the number admirably.
Cole Watts portrays Ed, the submissive boyfriend of a much more assertive character who falls into an unfortunate situation, and though Watts doesn’t have a ton of stage time, his number “Bit Part Demon,” which pokes fun at the obligatory slaying of various demons in Evil Dead, is impressive and he keeps the energy up throughout the number.
Sarah Luckadoo rounds out the ensemble of this production and does a fine job as both living characters and inanimate objects such as a footbridge and she does it all with gusto and high energy. She manages to have fun with the camp and creates a very enjoyable performance.
The five unfortunate friends who find themselves in the middle of this bloody, demonic story are Shelly, the ditzy, “loose woman,” played by Angeleaza Anderson (who plays a completely different, scholarly character named Annie, as well), Scotty, the bone-head best friend played by Danny Bertaux, Cheryl, this good girl, nerdy sister played by Sarah Goldstein, Linda, the hero’s girl, played by Carson Gregory, and our unlikely dashing hero, played by Benjamin Stoll.
Danny Bertaux, as Scotty, has a great command of the stage and is very comfortable in his role as the stereotypical “frat boy” looking for a good time in the woods with a girl he picked up only days before. Vocally, he does an impeccable job carrying the lower range and keeping in harmony with his fellow singers and he fills out the ensemble numbers very nicely. His character portrayal could have been reigned in a bit as, at times, it seems he’s trying too hard and going over the top, even for a campy piece. Overall, his performance is admirable and he’s giving his all which is fun to watch.
Angeleaza Anderson does a great job playing Shelly, the absolutely annoying counterpart to Danny Bertaux’s Scotty. She does such a good job, I found myself really irate with this person, waiting for her demise. Her performance of this character could have been pulled back a bit, as well, as it was a bit much, at times. Thankfully, Anderson picks up the role of Annie, the scientist and very intelligent daughter of the owner of the cabin, who comes to searching for her father. This character was much more likable, though matter-of-face, but her transition between the two characters was a complete switch displaying Anderson’s impressive acting chops. Her vocal performance was equally impressive, carrying the higher register and her number “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons” is entertaining and very enjoyable.
As Linda, the hero’s girlfriend and loyal S-Mart employee, Carson Gregory takes on this role with the understanding that the character is not the dramatic, romantic lead and it works brilliantly! She’s comfortable on the stage and gives a strong performance. Her vocal abilities are apparent as she flawlessly sings through the heartwarming and humorous “Housewares Employee” that deals with the meeting and eventual relationship between Linda and Ash. Gregory is a confident and diligent performer that is an asset to this production.
One of the highlights of this production of Evil Dead the Musical is Sarah Goldstein who takes on the role of Cheryl, the good-girl of the group. Goldstein really embraces this character and gives her all to her performance. Her comedic timing is spot on and she plays her character straight, making the craziness of the situation even more humorous. She’s a very strong performer and is quite comfortable on the stage and in this role. Her numbers “They Won’t Let Us Leave” and “Look Who’s Evil Now” are fun to watch and she pulls them off confidently as these songs sit well in her vocal range. She’s another actor who takes on two different characters and the transition is superb. As one of the characters with a good amount of stage time, she doesn’t drop her character once, keeping it up throughout the entire piece. She’s definitely one to watch in this production.
This brings us to our handsome, humorous hero, Ash, played flawlessly by Benjamin Stoll. Stoll carries this production effortlessly and seems to understand the humor and tongue and cheek that accompanies this piece. His comedic timing is near perfect and his physical work is outstanding. Vocally, Stoll is a standout with a smooth, beautiful baritone-tenor that resonates through the theatre. It doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty easy on the eyes being cute as a button and dashing all at the same time! However, school girl crush aside, Stoll does an amazing job in this role. This character is so iconic, it’s quite challenging to take on the responsibility of keeping the character familiar but also bringing a fresh point of view. Stoll very impressively manages to make the character of Ash his own and not a second rate version of the genius of Bruce Campbell and it made his performance top notch. I’m looking forward to seeing Stoll’s work in the future.
Final thought… Evil Dead the Musical is a fun, bloody, and definitely campy show that certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s easy to see the performers are having a great time which results in the audience having a great time, as well. You don’t have to be familiar with the films to enjoy the show and if you are not familiar, it’s a great introduction and if you are familiar, this production has taken care not to mess too much with the themes and gags that made the films so successful and you’ll certainly be overcome with a feeling of nostalgia. Perfect for the Halloween season, you should add this show to your Fall “to do” calendar!
This is what I thought of this production of Evil Dead the Musical.… what do you think?
Evil Dead the Musical will play through October 29 at Red Branch Theatre Company, 9130-I Red Branch Road, Columbia MD 21045. For tickets, call the box office at 410-997-9352 or purchase them online.