- Greggory Moore
A few years ago, the Garage Theatre put on Cannibal!: The Musical, a work loosely based on a disastrous 1874 prospecting expedition that resulted in Alferd Packer killing and eating the flesh of his fellow trekkers to survive. There may not be an unlikelier subject for a full-blown comedy, but this was one of the most enjoyable theatrical experiences I’ve ever had, partly because it was a product of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s special genius—which includes a true gift for song—and partly because the Garage simply knocked it out of the park.
A musical based on the first two Evil Dead films is not quite so unlikely—Evil Dead II, for example, is as much comedy as horror and has a sort of musical number: a headless corpse doing a bit of soft-shore—and it’s also less surprising than Cannibal!, in that it’s exactly what you expect from the title: it’s goofy, it’s cheesy, and the music doesn’t have a life of its own.
College-aged Ash (Steven G. Frankenfield) and his four pals drive out to an abandoned cabin in the woods for a romantic weekend getaway. Too bad for them it just happens to be Prof. Knowby’s (Robert Edward) cabin, who perished after unwittingly opening a rift between hell and here by phonetically reciting passages from the Necronomicon (very loosely translated: Book of the Dead). Too bad for them they find Prof. Knowby’s tape recorder and play the tape he made when he recited said passages, because…you get the idea.
Don’t even hope for a coherent plot. The Evil Dead films are full of holes, but the musical makes the films seem like Paddy Chayefsky. But you don’t come to this because you crave a good story. Evil Dead: The Musical sinks or swims based on three criteria: 1) whether you already know and like the films, 2) whether the cast has sufficient energy and comedic chops, and 3) whether you like cheese (as in cheesy) enough to enjoy a meal that is nothing but.
Only #2 isn’t wholly dependent on you, and fortunately the verdict here is favorable. Frankenfield is the center of the action, and he’s a solid anchor. (Plus, for fans of the film it won’t hurt that he bears a resemblance to what Bruce Campbell may have looked like before he was old enough to drink.) But if there’s a standout, it’s probably Jazzy Jones, who plays Ash’s sister. At first you think she might actually be the weak point, but once she gets possessed and locked in the basement, she delivers several moments of comedy gold. The kid’s got timing.
A strength of this show is the set. I cannot count how many different ways the Garage has adapted their black box to the production of the moment, and what Rob Young has done for this one is totally new and totally works. There’s also the added bonus that you’re unlikely ever to see a full-blown musical in such a tiny space. Cannibal!: The Musical seemed cavernous compared to this.
Okay, so this is clearly a low-budget production, but there’s a certain charm in that. And for a show as silly as this, it’s fitting. But beyond that there are some production problems. At times we have soloists performing with nothing but faint ambient light on them, and there is no consistent balance between the volumes of the band, the singers, and the piped-in sound. To be sure, you won’t catch all the lyrics.
That isn’t make-or-break, though, partly because one thing Evil Dead: The Musical isn’t is clever. Not only is lyricist George Reinblatt no Parker/Stone, I’m not sure he’s heard of them. “Evil’s funnier than it seems / You’ll even join our softball team / If you join us.” Oof! The script is filled with a lot of random humor à la a bad episode of Family Guy on a bad day. (To me almost all of them are bad, but never mind.)
Musically, too, there’s not much here. The five-piece band (ably directed by Alanah Ntzouras) does a fine job, but there isn’t a song in the bunch you’re going to remember when you leave the theater. Because of that, I enjoyed the musical atmospherics more than the actual songs.
Evil Dead: The Musical aspires to be something like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (it even name-checks “Time Warp”) plus gore (and the Garage brings the gore. You best bring a rain slicker or buy a cheapie from them, especially if you sit in the front row), but it lacks the killer numbers (no pun intended), and it relies too heavily on the audience coming into the theater already so in love with the Evil Dead films that they’ll forgive almost anything.
Then again, that’s the target demographic. Evil Dead: The Musical may not exceed your expectations, but if you’re willing to buy a ticket in the first place, it will most likely meet them.
EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL THE GARAGE THEATRE • 251 E 7TH ST (JUST OFF LONG BEACH BLVD) • LONG BEACH 90813 • 562.433.8337 THEGARAGETHEATRE.ORG • THURS-SAT 8PM • $15–$20 (THURSDAY TIX ARE 2-FOR-1); CLOSING NIGHT + PARTY $25 • THROUGH OCTOBER 29
(Photo credit: SpaceBarbarianProductions.com)