One often sees the experience of going to the theater praised as a communal one, the individual experience invariably enhanced by being shared with an auditorium of fellow arts-lovers.
I’m not sure I buy that argument; my most visceral responses at a theatre — laughter, tears — are usually evoked despite the fact that I’m sitting in a sea of strangers, not because they’re there.
But if you want to experience a genuinely communal theatrical production, one that’s entirely premised on the fact that you’re sitting with a rowdy crowd who shares your taste for gore and late night horror, seek out “Evil Dead The Musical,” currently touring for the Halloween season. The show was at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center, Wednesday, for a one-night stint.
The musical is based on Sam Raimi’s 1981 horror film, “The Evil Dead,” and its sequels. This is the one – the original one — in which a group of college students vacation in an abandoned cabin in the woods, with predictably gruesome results.
The musical re-creation is played purely for laughs. For guffaws, really; no joke is too broad here.
So much of the humor here comes from the surety that everyone present has seen the film over and over again; any capacity to scare that the story ever had has long worn away. All that’s left is an appreciation for ludicrous plotlines (such as the hero’s hand getting possessed by a demon, requiring him to self-amputate with a chainsaw) and sloppy geysers of fake blood.
You need to find that funny — and in a delightfully nostalgic way, recalling endless guilty-pleasure screenings in a rec room somewhere — to enjoy this show. But if you do, it delivers.
Trent Mills in the lone-surviving-hero role may not have Bruce Campbell’s lantern jaw – well, who does? — but he has a little of the star’s charismatic swagger, and proves a charming master of ceremonies. He also does battle with a stuffed moose head, and his own possessed hand, with admirable commitment.
Indeed, all the company’s actors dive into to their ridiculous roles with passion, and the musical interludes are really well done. Mills and Michelle Nash as Linda sell their faux romantic duet “Housewares Employee” with plenty of Céline-Dion-worthy runs and trills, and Saphire Demitro as annoying little sister Cheryl is a whirling dervish of energy through her big number, “Look Who’s Evil Now.” Someone really owes Meat Loaf royalties for the rock ballad in his signature style, delivered with gusto by Jonathan Shaboo as local yokel Jake.
The dance number “Do the Necronomicon” is basically “The Time Warp” with alternate lyrics —including the line, “this is not The Time Warp.”
Indeed, the whole production is aiming shamelessly for “Rocky Horror” territory. And if there’s nothing here quite as delicious as Tim Curry’s scarlet-stained pout, “Evil Dead The Musical” still offers similar giddy fun — without having to watch a film that starts at midnight and then go out to the Tick Tock Diner for 3 a.m. pancakes afterward. That’s a prospect more exhausting than entertaining for those of us well past our 20s, as much of the crowd in Morristown appeared to be.
You have to love a production that makes a point of saluting, with great admiration, all “you sick (expletives)” in the front row “Splatter Zone,” who wear plastic parkas to shield their clothes from the flying gore.
(By the end of the show, those felled by Ash’s chainsaw just whip out water guns filled with fake blood and shoot into the audience; no one near the stage leaves unstained.)
“Evil Dead The Musical” has no further New Jersey productions this season, but there are two shows this week just past Jersey’s borders. One is in Ridley Park, Pa., outside Philly, and runs through Nov. 4 (click here). And the North American tour of the show, which is the production that played in Morristown, will be at the State Theater in Easton, Pa., on Halloween night; visit statetheatre.org.
If you’re the kind of sick expletive who enjoys a good chainsawing, it’s probably worth the drive. And if you can’t make that trip, wait for next year — surely the show, like the dead, will come back to life then.