By Carolyn Hayes
October is the time for tricks and treats, and both are currently alive and well – or, rather, undead and hilarious – at Detroit’s City Theatre. Once again, The Ringwald Theatre and Olympia Entertainment have joined forces to resurrect the massively popular “Evil Dead: The Musical” (book and lyrics by George Reinblatt; music by Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris, and Reinblatt; music supervision by Cipolla; additional lyrics by Bond and Rob Daleman), an homage/parody of a cult classic indie film series that has become a cult favorite in its own right. This year, “ED:TM” veteran Tim Kay slips into the director’s chair, taking viewers on a euphoric skewering tour of horror town.
Making clear, sturdy hops through the major plot points, the play is eminently novice friendly, while bearing enough iconic quotes and in-references to satisfy the most devoted fan. In a nutshell, a raft of teen-movie cliches road trips to a secluded, abandoned cabin in the Michigan woods: protagonist Ash (Pete Podolski), girlfriend Linda (Shari Mocheit), sister Cheryl (Heather Sejnow), best friend Scott (Sean May), and Scott’s vacuous vacation sex acquaintance (Tara Tomcsik). As horny but inquisitive college students are wont to do, they almost immediately stumble on an ancient book and unknowingly awaken a race of demons bent on dominating the world, apparently one stock character at a time.
Meanwhile, the take-charge daughter of the cabin’s absent owner (Tomcsik, in a dual role), followed by her fiance of few words (Casey Hibbert), set out for the cabin with the help of a local yokel (David Schoen). Who lives, who dies, and who finds new life in demon form is fleshed out in catchy songs and wonderfully excessive comedy violence.
This year’s iteration is strongest in its comedic sensibility. In the face of ominous and hellishly gory source material, Kay elects to ratchet up the camp of every beat, and the laughs are tremendous. From the high notes of Brian Carbine’s standout choreography – alternately blindly wholesome and madly vulgar – to the attention to detail that reveals riotous cracks in straight-faced parody, the occasional dated lyric and ho-hum reference pass unregistered. The choice inevitably means a scale tip in favor of funny over spooky, but there is craft in the crassness that makes the choice a success.
This is not to say that the production isn’t bloody base as ever; indeed, Jen and Ted Hansen’s storied special effects are here in all their spurting glory, guaranteed to handily anoint those viewers adventurous (and early) enough to snag prime seats in the plastic-tarped splatter zone. The orgy of viscera finds a hundred ingenious hiding places on Tommy LeRoy’s log-cabin set, among a circus of tchotchkes and knickknacks (by properties designers Michelle LeRoy and the Hansens once again) just waiting to take on increasingly bizarre and delightful uses – many executed by bit part player, backstage crew head, and seriously good sport David B. Woitulewicz. Lighting design by Alex Gay matches the tone, unsubtlety for unsubtlety, and costumes by Miekyle Turner are workhorse pieces designed to move easily, get destroyed, and wash clean. Admittedly, the overall sound design leaves something to be desired: The pitfalls of canned music are compounded by its low volume, and music direction by Ryan MacKenzie Lewis wants for the raw belting foundation that propels this kind of silly energy. Yet at the same time, to nitpick that sound cues don’t quite match up with the action onstage is to miss the essence of such a fun and wantonly sloppy melee.
To this effect, Kay has assembled a crack ensemble ready to set vanity aside and milk every preposterous punchline for all it’s worth.
Podolski is in his element beneath an inflated chiseled-hero veneer, acting the fool alongside Mocheit’s earnest but sultry love interest. Awkward kid sister Sejnow goes from wide-eyed misfit to one-demon peanut gallery, and her clear enjoyment in the task sells the performance. Tomcsik is equally skilled in glassy-blank congenial oblivion of the ditzy one-night stand and as the pushy but sexy know-it-all archaeologist; that frustrated Hibbert does more than just hold on in her wake is an accomplishment. Unblinking Schoen knows how to work an indignant outburst, and although May doesn’t seem entirely at home as the self-serving bully, he layers on a needed Fred Schneider-ly affect that makes a corny late-show number shine.
In all, it’s another fine recurrence for “ED:TM,” largely matching the strengths of its predecessors and honoring the source material, but still evolving and benefitting from new discoveries. Here, Kay and company’s vision pays off in a heaping helping of comic gems that are achievements in their own right.
‘Evil Dead: The Musical’
The Ringwald & Olympia Entertainment at City Theatre, 2301 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Thursday-Saturday through Oct. 27. $15-26. 313-471-6611. http://www.OlympiaEntertainment.com