Okay, let’s be honest: As soon as artistic director Chad Henderson stepped on stage to warn audience members they might actually get splashed with fake blood, I knew I was going to enjoy Evil Dead: The Musical. But, in between howls of laughter, I tried very hard to remain an objective observer.
Trustus Theatre is known for its unique, edgy productions that often use humor to touch on relevant community and social issues. Beyond the campy appeal of Evil Dead: The Musical lies frequent uses of pejorative terms against its female characters, a snarling man in overalls and a “Make America Great Again” ballcap, and a rising uneasiness that is well-masked in delightful gore. It all makes the audience members question silently: who are the most evil and frightening characters in this play, anyway?
Evil Dead: The Musical is an off-Broadway show written by George Reinblatt, based on the cult classic films Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Army of Darkness. Fans of the original movie trilogy will rejoice at Trustus Theatre’s musical performance, which quotes all three films and reenacts some of their most memorable scenes (such as the hand amputation in Evil Dead 2). Trustus Theatre’s masterful cast and artistic direction, however, make the production accessible and enjoyable to audiences who haven’t seen any of the original films. Trust me: in our party, we had one person who had never seen any of the movies, and we had one person whose love for the Evil Dead trilogy mirrors the type of adoration you normally only seen in Star Wars fans. So, we can guarantee: If you enjoy camp, dark comedies, and horror parodies, you’ll love Evil Dead: The Musical at Trustus Theatre. It mocks all the frustrating idiosyncrasies and stereotypes of horror films with more humor and intelligence than the Scary Movie series ever achieved. It’s a parody for people who truly love horror films, and the cast at Trustus brings an unmistakable intelligence to the performance.
The disappointing part of reviewing Evil Dead: The Musical for Midlands Anchor, though, is that some of my favorite parts of the musical are, quite frankly, too R-rated to discuss in great detail. It’s gory, for sure—don’t take your kids to this one—and full of expletives. For example: I could not stop laughing during the song, “What the F*** Was That?”, performed by hero Ash (Michael Hazin) and his best friend Scott (Patrick Dodds) after they witnessed the first demonic possessions of the evening. Dodds, by the way, crafts Scott into a guilty pleasure character: he is so thrillingly unlikable that, as much as you’ll want to roll your eyes at him, you still find yourself eagerly waiting for him to return during each scene. Scott is obnoxiously boastful about his sexuality and makes cruel jokes about the female characters; he may remind you of every privileged, entitled college male you’ve ever met.
So let’s talk about those female characters, by the way. They’re caricatures of typical horror movie roles for women—the unrealistically ditzy, big-bosomed blonde (Abigail Ludwig); the doting, pure-hearted love interest of the hero (Abby Bartman); the lonely nerd (Katie Leitner); and the pompous professor’s daughter (Brittany Michelle Hammock). The ladies of Evil Dead: The Musical spend a great deal of time needing the men to chaperone, reassure, and scold them (that is, when they’re not the butt of jokes about their perceived lack of intelligence or their promiscuity). As the story progress, you can’t help but to stand and cheer when a few of the women get possessed by demons who enjoy terrorizing their cocky male counterparts. The female cast of Trustus Theatre have much more than acting chops—they’re talented vocalists and dancers who execute camp with sophistication. Their enthusiasm for their performance is infectious—as aggravating as her character was, Hammock’s rendition of “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Kandarian Demons” is one of the show’s standout moments.
But let’s not forget Jake (Kevin Bush) and Ed (Trey Lawson). Bush’s portrayal was such a spot-on reminder of men I knew when I lived in Kentucky; down to the five o’clock shadow and the maddening yet endearing inflection of his voice, he perfectly nailed the “country boy” stereotype of horror films. As adorable “bit part demon” Ed, Lawson rouses a subtle pity from the audience that might remind some of Amos Lee in Chicago. You know neither Jake nor Ed is necessarily integral to the plot, but you love them anyway. And let’s face it, Bush singing “Ode to an Accidental Stabbing” is one of the show’s funniest moments.
If you’re a fan of the macabre, Evil Dead: The Musical has enough gruesome showers of blood and innards to keep you fulfilled. For those who love dark comedies along the lines of Death Becomes Her, where even the violence holds humor, Trustus Theatre’s cast and direction won’t disappoint. It’s vulgar, grisly, raucous, and bawdy—but Evil Dead: The Musical is so masterfully crafted you won’t ever want to leave.
Evil Dead: The Musical will enjoy its final night of demon possessions and gleeful musical accompaniment this weekend. Wednesday, Nov. 8 is already sold out, but tickets are still available for the final three shows. Performances run at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, and at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10, and Saturday, Nov. 11. Ticket prices range from $25 to $35 and may be purchased in advance here.