Review: 'The Evil Dead' at Stray Dog Theatre is Bloody Good Fun

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

St. Louis was invaded by zombies over the weekend as two theater companies presented two very different takes on the horror movie genre. For starters, “Evil Dead: The Musical,” presented by Stray Dog Theatre, pokes merciless fun at Sam Raimi’s famous movie and the absurd clichés that B horror movies rely on; young people get stranded in an isolated cabin, spirits are unleashed, people get possessed and lots of spurting blood the color and consistency of Kool-Aid. It’s a madcap parody of guts and gore that will have you squirming in your seats with laughter.

Cast of "Evil Dead the Musical" at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo by John Lamb

Cast of “Evil Dead: The Musical” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo by John Lamb

 

The story—whether you’ve seen the movie or not—is familiar. Four young adults go to the deep woods to break into a cabin they know is deserted this time of year, for a fun weekend of youthful shenanigans. Inside they discover the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, also known as “Book of the Dead,” along with a recording of the cabin’s professor/owner who reveals he accidentally unleashed evil spirits while he was deciphering the mysterious tome. Then take away their only means of escape (a bridge is mysteriously destroyed—plus the woods are alive!) and the scene is set for mayhem. Oh look, a chainsaw. That’ll come in handy.

Anna Skidis, C.E. Fifer, Angela Bubash, Eileen Engel and Paul Cereghino in "Evil Dead-The Musical" at Stray Dog. Photo by John Lamb

Anna Skidis, C.E. Fifer, Angela Bubash, Eileen Engel and Paul Cereghino in “Evil Dead: The Musical” at Stray Dog. Photo by John Lamb

 

The performers are having a blast and the audience rides right along with them. Paul Cereghino as Ash cuts a dashing figure as a combination leading man/master of ceremonies, delivering his lines with tongue planted firmly in cheek and sharp weapon in hand, while Eileen Engel as his love interest Linda, has just the right amount of girl-next-door innocence. C.E. Fifer is best friend Scott who’s kind of a jerk, and Angela Bubash is Shelly, his morally generous, picked-up-in-a-bar female acquaintance. You know she’s going to be a victim. In horror movies, sleeping with your boyfriend earns a death sentence.

Paul Cereghino, Brittany Kohl and Zachary Stefaniak  in Stray Dog's "Evil Dead-The Musical." Photo by John Lamb

Paul Cereghino, Brittany Kohl and Zachary Stefaniak in Stray Dog’s “Evil Dead: The Musical.” Photo by John Lamb

 

Anna Skidis is delightful as tag-along-sister Cheryl—the first to become “infected”—who keeps popping up through the cellar door in the floor like a macabre jack-in-the-box, delivering one-liners and deliciously bad puns with a maniacal, hysterical fervor. Three more characters arrive on the scene with comedic flair; Brittany Kohl as the professor’s daughter, carrying, of course, the missing pages that will reverse the spell, Michael A. Wells as her henpecked guy, and Zachary Stefaniak as Jake, their hillbilly-like guide through the woods.

"Evil Dead - The Musical" at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo by John Lamb

“Evil Dead: The Musical” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo by John Lamb

 

All of the actors sing with aplomb and perform Jamie Lynn Marble’s fun and clever choreography with zeal. Director Justin Been keeps the action zipping along at breakneck speed, though near the end when things get their craziest, one gets the feeling Been took his hands off the wheel and let the thing run on manic actor-power, in this case, not a bad idea at all. Tyler Duenow’s lights, Sarah Castelli’s make-up, Alexandra Scibetta Quigley’s costumes, Chris Petersen’s direction of the small but competent band and Nathan Marshall’s semi-animated set are all well done.

Horror movies are often reliant on characters doing the exact thing they should not do—going upstairs when warned not to or opening a closet door to investigate that breathing noise on the other side. As hillbilly Zeke says, “I got no time for your common sense.” Indeed, a little common sense can kill a horror movie. Fortunately, the foibles and idiosyncrasies of the horror genre are prime fodder for parody, and “Evil Dead: The Musical” is a bloody good and unexpectedly charming example.

The review for New Line Theatre’s “Night of the Living Dead” is available here.

“Evil Dead,” created by George Reinblatt, Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris and Christopher Bond, continues at Stray Dog Theatre through Nov. 2, 2013. For tickets and information visit the theater’s website. The run is expected to sell out, so get your tickets soon.

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