When thinking of potential musical adaptations from film, cult classic “Evil Dead” is hardly the first that comes to mind, yet the University of Wisconsin’s University Theatre’s production of “Evil Dead: The Musical” has quickly taken Madison by storm.
Based on the 1981 film trilogy directed by Sam Raimi, the musical stays true to its gory, creatively low-budget origins. It branches out, however, through the element of comedy — “Evil Dead: The Musical” is one of the funniest, crassest musicals I have ever watched.
The story revolves around self-assured Ash, played by Cobi Tappa, and his four friends’ weekend at an eerie, abandoned cabin in the woods. Surprising to no one, their adventure quickly devolves into a hilariously bloody experience. Ash’s finding of an eccentric professor’s tape adds a fantastical component to the show, giving way to numerous demonic possessions and a sizeable number of resurrected zombie-people.
The set is complete with a house that shakes and rattles, an enchanted moose head, and a basement that confines Ash’s terrifying, once-possessed sister played by Josie Brandmeier for almost the entire time.
The costume design includes black-sequined jackets for the jazzy rendition of “Do the Necronomicon,” and a great deal of tear-away clothes with respect to all the action and death seen throughout the show.
But to characterize “Evil Dead” as a one-trick pony is to do it a disservice. The musical score serves genres beyond horror/comedy. “Housewares Employee,” a sincere duet between Ash and his girlfriend, tugs at the heartstrings of onlookers. “Bit Part Demon” encompasses the pain of being an introvert. “Ode to an Accidental Stabbing” is high-spirited, rage-fueled performance between the typically expendable farmer Jake, played by Sam Vinitsky, and the lively daughter of the professor, Annie, played by Caitlin Rowe.
Adding to its campy charm, the musical is not as two-dimensional as one might believe — it continually breaks the fourth wall, poking fun at its flawed horror script, and pays homage to the original films by the Michigan State University sweater worn by Ash’s energetic girlfriend Linda, played by Faith Fuller.
Overall, “Evil Dead” played to its strengths wonderfully. Its use of both typical horror tropes and unconventional characters as a medium for comedy while singing incredibly memorable numbers is, simply put, admirable. Its over-the-top bloodiness and off-color quips are a recipe for a boisterous audience. With all this in consideration and a warning for those within the “splash zone,” it really is no wonder the musical is recommended for those 17 and above.
I cannot recommend “Evil Dead” highly enough. It is a show everyone can enjoy, not just horror buffs or fans of dark comedy. Just make sure to bring a raincoat, unless you truly want to be a part of the gory adventure.