How does the cast of Evil Dead the Musical manage to sing so well when their tongues are jammed in their cheeks? And it must be difficult to sustain a glorious note while spewing blood from one's guts and trying not to crack up. Fortunately the audience has no such concerns and can just sit back and laugh - and scream - until they too seem to be possessed by Candarian demons.
Evil Dead the Musical makes a triumphant return to Toronto, the home of its conception, with a splashy (pun intended) new production. The cheesy (and often fratboy smutty and penis obsessed) jokes, in jokes and special effects that veer from spectacular to comically cut-rate, make Evil Dead the Musical review proof - it is too ironic and willing to laugh at itself to be anything but entertaining. Fortunately this production doesn't stint on talent or production values and is a smooth hilarious evening of gory guffaws.
As well as mocking horror movie and musical theatre cliches - the "What the Fuck Was That" tango between the male leads is hysterical riff on Rent's lesbian tango from a straightish-male point of view - this production is cleverly structured to also mock rock n' roll cliches. The entire evening is modelled on a rock concert, from the blaring vintage rock playing beforehand and the relentless hawking of merch (to be fair it is some of the best merch ever). Not only does the action and lighting build in intensity but so does the volume of the sound mix and the power of the band and vocals. At first lead Ryan Ward seemed lost with the rest in the mix but then Daniel Williston as Jake cuts loose vocally in his big solo number (also containing the best line - of course "Good Old Reliable Jake" will help get a dead hooker out of your hotel room) and suddenly the energy revs up relentlessly. By the time the demons are belting "Do The Necromonicon" the theatre has become a stadium and the audience is on their feet.
Ward has played this role for a long time, he created it, and he inhabits Ash completely. His gangly presence is instantly lovable and he has the square-jawed hero schtick down pat. Even the tricky business of breaking what is left of the fourth wall (there is not much of a barrier to begin with, though the set is a fabulous character in its own right) and arching an eyebrow, is done with sly finesse that draws the audience in instead of creating Brechtian distance. And gets some of the largest laughs of the evening.
Williston's big voice and foul-mouthed tirades are hilarious and Laura Tremblay is spot-on as both an big breasted blond bimbo and an overbearing sexually repressed scientist whose clothes just keep tearing to pieces. All of the cast takes on multiple roles but the biggest leap is made by Rodrigo Frenandez-Stoll who transforms from the pudgy nightmare loser best friend into the sexy ringleader of the Necromonicon dance. It is as if who the audience thought was John Belushi suddenly re-appeared in the role of Frank-N-Furter and nailed it - especially the hairy-chested sex appeal. Alison Smyth is burdened with the worst jokes - mainly atrocious puns - in the show but is such a lively, especially considering she spends most of the show being one of the undead, comedian that she sells even the hoary groaners.
The most charming and improbably heartwarming showstopper belongs to Kenton Blythe as Ed. "Bit Part Demon" cribs blithely from Chicago's "Mr Cellophane" while managing to salute every actor, or wannabe actor, who has suffered from non-deserved non-recognition. Margaret Thompson is sweet and evil and then sweet and then evil and achingly evokes true love as the "perfect girl." She is even charming after being graphically decapitated.
There is nothing to be learned from Evil Dead the Musical (other than those lessons we never manage to learn about having sex in cabins in the wood or investigating strange noises in the dark alone) but it is a hell (pun intended) of a good time. Whether seated in the Splatter Zone (and those audience members were quite gleefully soaked in blood by the end) or perched in the uncomfortable pew benches of the balcony, the most frequently overheard comment after was "Awesome." And Evil Dead the Musical is.
Evil Dead the Musical EXTENDED to Jan 5 2014 at the George Randolph Theatre, 736 Bathurst St. evildeadthemusical.com