Chicago Theater Review: EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL (Black Button Eyes Productions)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 19, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


An import from our neighbor to the north that’s almost as inebriating as Canadian Club, Evil Dead The Musical is a blood-splattering, silly-ass, ham-acting confection based on a franchise of three gag-inducing 80s’ films. (How come the “good dead” never get a show? I guess it would be too dull.)

A huge hit for over a decade in Toronto and an Off-Broadway offering too, this gorefest aims for — but doesn’t quite achieve — the cult-like craziness of The Rocky Horror Show. Billed as a “Chicago Storefront Premiere,” Black Button Eyes’ camp-heavy, two-hour revival at Pride Arts Center is a sophisticated frat show packed with grungy special and sound effects, groaner puns, stiff exposition, animated taxidermy, exploding blood bags, severed heads, accidental stabbings, eviscerated entrails that include a cock and balls, simulated beheadings (a not so hilarious sight anymore), headless torsos, and a serviceable score of doo-wop novelty numbers.

The familiar plot, heavily influenced by H.P. Lovecraft, focuses on a conveniently isolated cabin, complete with talking/singing moose head and a haunted cellar in Jeremiah Barr’s storybook, pop-up set. The only bridge out of this hellhole has collapsed. So five college friends on spring break become squatters who may well be “dead by dawn.” The clueless kids are doomed to become victims of the Kandarian demons who have staked out this isolated refuge. These gratuitously nasty immigrants from the afterlife can only be defeated and sent back through a time warp by strategic readings from the Necronomicon Ex Mortis or Book of the Dead. It disappeared in 1300 — until now, when it was considerately left behind by the summer home’s spirit-seeking owner. Now they’re recruiting (“Join us!”) because, well, the bowels of Hell need replenishing.

The future victims, some of them colleagues at a local “S-Mart” housewares store, deliver reliable stereotypes: the take-charge, gun-loving leader Ash (Jordan Dell Harris, doing a great imitation of the original Bruce Campbell); his no-nonsense girlfriend and housewares employee Linda (Kirby Gibson); dumb-bimbo Shelly (Stevie Love); Ash’s dorky sister Cheryl (rubber-faced Caitlin Jackson); and sexist Scott (Josh Kemper, odiously misogynistic). Joining them is demon huntress Annie, who is onto her dad’s dealings with demons, her dweeb boyfriend Scott, and local yokel “good old reliable Jake” (Shane Roberie). Cut off from civilization, they soon discover that the cabin’s curse “won’t let us leave.” (Well, the audience has no such excuse.)

In no time these very eligible corpses find themselves attacked by homicidal trees and by each other, which of course forces them to slaughter their pals, just as the wicked emanations desire. (Briefly possessed, Ash finds his hand inventively attacking him until he’s forced to cut it off.) Of course, the undead come back, zombie-style, a further excuse for more spurting bodily fluids, until finally Ash gets a chainsaw and a massacre inevitably ensues.

Directed by Oliver Townsend, the songs (by Christopher Bond, Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris and bookwriter/lyricist George Reinblatt), which presumably get better as the B.Y.O.B. crowd gets drunker, dutifully chronicle the mayhem, as in the running ballad “Look Who’s Evil Now,” or just provide an excuse for Derek Van Barham’s spirit-ed choreography, like the funky big dance number “Do The Necronomicon” a poor man’s version of “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again.” Robert Quintanilla does a “Mr. Cellophane”-style deflation as he realizes that, even dead, he’s only a “Bit Part Demon.” Stevie Love has stentorian fun with her catalogue complaint “All The Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Kandarian Demons” (a song that has virtually no life outside this show). “Blew That Bitch Away” is the unsubtle finale at the S-Mart outlet where the ex-possessed salute their stupid survival.

As always with a spoof, this show can’t be both scary and satirical — and Ed Rutherford’s staging needs a bit more snap in delivering the one-liners. Oddly, the most hilarious part of the show is unintended: It comes when the theatergoers who sat in the four plastic-shrouded rows of the “splatter zone” — but who didn’t take a hint to put on their protective slickers — howled very sincerely when the copious blood hit their soon-to-be-cleaned clothes. That was a scream.

photos by Evan Hanover

Evil Dead The Musical
Black Button Eyes Productions
Pride Arts Center (The Broadway), 4139 N. Broadway
Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 2; Tues at 7:30 (Jan. 29 only)
ends on February 16, 2019
for tickets, visit Black Button Eyes or Brown Paper Tickets

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