by Tiffany Raymond, ‘Burgh Vivant
Pittsburgh Musical Theater brings “Evil Dead: The Musical” to life – or is that to death?
“Evil Dead: The Musical” (book and lyrics by George Reinblatt) was first performed in 2003. It’s an amalgamation of the four-film series written and directed by Sam Raimi, which spanned 1978 to 1992. Not everything holds up in the modern era. There’s a reference to the Columbia Records CD club, which is either a flashback or headscratcher moment, depending on one’s age. The more troublingly dated material is Scott’s (Adam Fladd) repeated shouting at his date: “What a stupid bitch!” While it’s supposed to be humorous, the audience’s laughter falters here. This sort of demeaning sexism and verbal abuse is no longer raucous in the #MeToo era, even within the context of a comedic horror musical.
Scott’s date, Shelly (Mandie Russak), is a walking stereotype of a blonde bimbo. We learn Scott picked her up at a truck stop. Russak embraces the limited confines of her role from the onset as she deep throats a can. Director Nick Mitchell intensifies the moment by having her seek Scott’s approval with sultry upturned eyes. Costume designer Terra Skirtich amps the camp factor with Shelly’s red stripper heels, skintight jeans, and cropped buttondown that ties between her breasts. Russak lifts her top in a “Girls Gone Wild” homage as the show’s five college kids head to an abandoned cabin in the woods for spring break. What could go wrong? Plenty, of course. The vacationing quintet accidentally unleash demons they subsequently spend the show battling.
The songs are full of one-liners and poke easy fun at the genre itself. Cabin late-comer Ed (Connor Bahr) gets to belt out “Bit-Part Demon” and sings that he’s “forgettable #39, the one killed by the hero.” It’s a reminder that everyone has their role in these shows. Even the taxidermy comes to life. A demonic, red-eyed Bullwinkle and Rocky bob their heads and sing, an unexpected twist. It’s the first time I’ve seen taxidermy with song credits.
Central character, Ash (B.A. Goodnack), and his girlfriend, Linda (Kait Descutner), sing a memorable ballad entitled “Housewares Employee.” It traces their love story, which commenced at S-Mart where she’s a checker, and he’s in housewares. Yet, as Ash sings, “I was the one checking you out.” Ash has a stack of one-liners, and Goodnack accentuates them without overdoing it.
As Pittsburgh Musical Theater, song and dance is their bread and butter. Not only are the acoustics poor, their sound system is in desperate need of an upgrade. The solo numbers work better, but the group numbers get a bit garbled. There is also some metallic grinding in the sound mix that doesn’t sound intended by sound designer Kevin Kocher. The vocalists, all capable, power through it, and the campy nature of the show is an asset. Stronger direction from choreographer Sarah Misko would have been useful. The actors’ movements during the songs often feel random and unguided.
The show is rife with laughable zingers, and the audience is forgivingly receptive to the kitsch factor. There’s an irresistible Rocky Horror-esque vibe to the whole production that sweeps you along, whether you want to be or not. At one point, a voice warns that the book of the dead is “inked in blood,” but that also applies to the seating. The front rows are a Sea World splash zone with fake blood spraying out over the audience. Get swept away, and wear a little bit of “Evil Dead” home!
Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s production of “Evil Dead: The Musical” plays through October 19th at the Gargano Theater, 327 S. Main Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15220. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.