‘Evil Dead: The Musical’ at Greenbelt Arts Center

Wildly exaggerated acting work, referential cinematic poses, bad touching, and lots and lots of blood spatter come together in this unapologetically absurd production of the George Reinblatt, Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, and Melissa Morris musical based on the Sam Raimi horror franchise.

From the first scene, in which Ash (Steve Baird) establishes a two-foot-long foot bridge as the only way to access their mysterious cabin, to later when the same bridge is turned upside down to establish that it is out and the characters are trapped, to the aggressively sinuous and sexually charged choreography in the “Housewares Employee” love duet, to the surprisingly adorable squirrel and moose-head puppets created by created by Elizabeth Dapo,”to the blood spray in “God Damn you, Woman,” in which the splash-zone spectators are literally hosed down, Director Jeffery Lesniak (who also contributes props, lighting, sound, and costume design), presents audiences with a tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top night of insane fun and bloody madness.

The cast of 'Evil Dead: The Musiical'-Ash and the Deadites. Photo courtesy of Greenbelt Arts Center.
The cast of ‘Evil Dead: The Musiical’-Ash and the Deadites. Photo courtesy of Greenbelt Arts Center.

The cast in whole take their places amid the lunacy, with Baird and Michael Brick (Scott) striking Flamenco poses during “What the Fuck was that?,” Shannon Riley (Annie) tearing off pieces of her pants suit with mock indignation, and Stephen P. Yednock (Jake) taking on the horror stock-role of the incredulous hick with tempestuous rage and a crazy, non-regional, Mountain Southern dialect.

Baird is a consummate performer, at times literally risking life and limb, flipping over himself in a flawlessly executed battle with his own possessed right hand. Laura Kavinski, in the featured role of Ash’s initial love-interest, is an intuitive partner for Act I.

Overall, the cast fully embraces Lesniak’s vision and the style of the material, from Heather Harris (Cheryl) taking exceeding delight in her deliciously bad puns, to Baird’s Karate-Kid, crane-technique, fight pose, to Riley/Yednock/Baird’s doo-wop trio of “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons.”

There are some inconsistencies in the performance style, with some actors indicating their bits without motivation (such as when Brick shushes the room repeatedly or when Harris explains to the audience that she must investigate the woods herself without waking anyone else). Granted, it is always a challenge to determine the right tone in material like this, which lives somewhere in between homage and parody.

To this reviewer, however, the strongest moments are when the cast deliver their dialogue with the kind of excessive feeling that we see in Baird on his “This is my boomstick” (direct reference to Army of Darkness) or see in Colton during his scene-stealing rendition of “Bit-Part Demon.”  These moments are most prevalent in Act II when the emotional pitches, along with the levels of blood and gore, push through the roof of the modest GAC proscenium stage.

5 college students on the way to a cabin in the woods. Photo ciurtesy of Greenbelt Arts Ceter.
5 college students on the way to a cabin in the woods. Photo courtesy of Greenbelt Arts Ceter.

The choreography by Rikki Howie Lacewell is a stand-out of the production, a delightfully campy menu of creepy, sexy, or silly moves tailored to specific song styles, and delivered with precision by the cast, who are, without exception, strong singer/dancers.

The music in general is delivered with equal passion by both the actors and the uncredited musicians, under the direction of Itai Yassur. Riley is a particular pleasure to hear serenading the audience in her “Candarian Demons” lament. The sound reinforcement is in poor shape, unfortunately, as feedback and other distortions undermine the songs and make the lyrics difficult to hear. This is especially problematic when the parodic lyrics, one of the strengths of the material, are rendered indecipherable. The production design includes an elaborately dressed cabin-in-the-woods unit set (Dapo), functional costumes (such as Cheryl’s “Stay Calm” T-shirt), and occasional effects, such as a strobe-lit zombie massacre (’cause why the fuck not?).

Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

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Evil Dead: The Musical plays through March 28, 2015 at The Greenbelt Arts Center – 123 Centerway, in Greenbelt, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.

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