‘Evil Dead’ is a messy masterpiece at EPAC

By on October 28, 2011

Record Express Correspondent
If another Halloween spent doing the same old Time Warp, haunted woods and corn mazes leaves you screaming in horror, there is a cure and that cure is “Evil Dead: The Musical,” terrifyingly billed as “the only musical with a splatter zone!!!”
This year’s freshest holiday offering is clearly a campy musical incantation of a 30-year-old, B (at best) horror film, “The Evil Dead.” And it will leave you screaming in delight.
Ephrata Performing Arts Center comes alive with death, and spills more than a little blood with this spirited spoof of horror flicks that does for dancing demons what “Pretty Woman” did for hookers.
The story follows Sam Raimi’s original 1981 film plotline, but even if you haven’t seen it, this musical version will sing to you.
“When I heard there was a musical version of ‘The Evil Dead,’ I said, ‘That’s right up my line,'” said Ed Fernandez, EPAC artistic director and director of this production. “Then I saw a DVD version of it when it was in an early workshop and I thought the music was cute and it was fun, but it wasn’t that funny. I loved the idea of doing the show, but it’s very expensive to mount and it’s a technical nightmare.”
A recent production in Reading, though, made Fernandez reconsider taking the challenge. So for the past year, “Evil Dead: The Musical” has quietly been in the works at Sharadin Bigler Theatre.
Although this show is all laughs, it took considerable technical manhandling to make it happen. Fernandez said EPAC has been experimenting for months to concoct a recipe for blood that would stick to actors’ costumes as the body count rises on stage.
A high stage was built to house a pumping system that squirts blood from under the stage onto the stage and into the infamous “Splatter Zone,” the first two rows of theater seats. A second, thinner blood recipe was concocted to pipe through the tubes.
Then there was the task of creating a moving, talking set that comes alive when possessed by those pesky demons. Fernandez said they used puppets, and actors honed their skills as puppeteers to successfully create the effect.
Even costuming was a challenge, requiring multiple versions as characters wage war against the demons and become tattered and blood spattered.
In spite of all that, “Evil Dead: The Musical” appears deceivingly simple to the eye as it comes off without a hitch at Sharadin Bigler. And this cast has so much fun, you wish you were in that haunted cabin in the woods with them.
“There are people who can do it and get it, but if they don’t, it can come off like a bad high school skit,” Fernandez said. “And you have to know the material you’re spoofing. You have to love the genre and understand it. You can have all the effects, but if the actors don’t understand how to make this world real, it just becomes silly and tiresome.”
Well, “Evil Dead: The Musical” is absolutely silly, but EPAC’s demons never become tiresome. With a snappy score nicely executed by conductor Cheryl Markle’s five-piece band and a cast suitably stupid enough to go to an abandoned cabin in the woods for a spring break of sex and booze, this is a raucous romp in the spirit of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” but so much fresher.
Fernandez’s cast popped right off a B-horror movie poster with bulging bras and muscles, and chainsaws in hand.
Square-jawed Brian Viera leads as Ash, the humble housewares stock boy turned unwitting hero/egomaniac. He swings a chainsaw with verve and becomes a little sweatier and sexier every time he loses a limb.
“At the beginning, you think anyone can do that role, but as the show goes on, (Viera) really wins the audience over,” Fernandez said. “His physical comedy is brilliant and he actually looks like Bruce Campbell, who played Ash in the movie.”
Rounding out the cast of stupid, sex-crazed teens are: Katelyn Ann Mullen wielding her powerful singing voice as Cheryl; Meg Schabdach as Shelly; Corey Buller as Scott; and Alyssa Miller as Linda. Also look for Marisa Hoover as annoying Annie; Sean Deffley as Ed; Derek Martin as the moose; and Mike Gephart as Jake.
“Evil Dead’s” funny book and lyrics came from George Reinblatt; and the catchy music was written by Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris and Reinblatt. These are not kid-friendly lyrics, but they are precious, particularly the tunes, “What the !@&#$% Was That?,” the sugary “Housewares Employee” and one I could really relate to: “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed By Candarian Demons.”
But in this production, even better than the music is choreographer Irving Gonzalez’s snappy moves, which are a lot better than they need to be for this level of camp. It can’t be easy to herd a group of demons into step, but Gonzalez always manages to make his steps tell the story. Replacing “Rocky Horror’s” Time Warp is this show’s “Do the Necronomicon” and it’s a hoot worth seeing.
Set designer Mike Rhoads also outdid himself with a complex set featuring all kinds of bells and whistles that will surprise. Lighting designer Jeff Cusaon perfectly nailed the B-horror movie poster look, especially when the cast vogues in form with their weapons in Act Two.
“Evil Dead: The Musical” is only occasionally produced, most likely because of all the technical headaches, not to mention the mess. Fernandez has the cleanup crew mopping the floors of spilled blood and entrails before the audience has even filed out of the theater. This is a chance to see it and almost live it (splatter rain gear is included with your ticket price!) and it’s worth every drop of blood EPAC spilled to produce it. For added horror, take in the Oct. 29 midnight showing!

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