Review: Evil Dead the Musical Is a Bloody Bucket of Laughs

Photo by Evan Hanover.

The Evil Dead series is one that I hold dear to my heart, and I was excited, and worried, to see it in musical form. Evil Dead, especially the later entries, are decidedly cheesy movies, and are perfect for a musical interpretation, in the same vein of Little Shop of Horrors. At the same time, however, you can get a bit too cheesy, which is where I felt that Army of Darkness, the third film in the franchise, really faltered. Never fear though, because Black Button Eyes Productions’ rendition of Evil Dead the Musical, directed by Ed Rutherford,  perfectly balances the over-the-top goofiness, goriness, and absurdity that the series is known for, with some amazing musical and dance performances along the way.

Shown: Jordan Dell Harris. Photo by Evan Hanover.

Evil Dead the Musical acts as an amalgamation of all three Evil Dead films, although it is mainly a combination of the first two. As such, the story follows the first Evil Dead movie to a T. Five college students—Ash Williams (played by Jordan Dell Harris), his girlfriend Linda (Kirby Gibson), his sister Cheryl (Caitlin Jackson), his friend Scott (Josh Kemper) and Scott’s “girlfriend” Shelly (Stevie Love)—are spending their spring break at a cabin in the woods, which Ash has forgotten to mention they are not renting, and that they are in fact breaking into. Inside the cabin they find a book inked in blood, and bound in human flesh: the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, the catalyst for all the events to follow in the musical, as well as a tape recorder, owned by the actual inhabitant of the cabin, Dr. Knowby, who discovered the book in the ruins of a Sumerian temple. However, by translating the words of the book and speaking them aloud, Knowby unknowingly unleashed an evil onto the world that had not been seen in thousands of years.

Left to right: Jordan Dell Harris, Stevie Love, Josh Kemper. Photo by Evan Hanover.

Evil Dead the Musical does a great job of condensing the first two movies into a single outing at the theater, without feeling like it’s rushing along, although this can be attributed to the fact that 1. The second Evil Dead is basically a retelling of the first, and 2. Evil Dead the Musical is a lengthy production, coming in at 2 hours long, excluding the 10-minute intermission. Even so, I never once felt bored as can occur during musicals of this length, as there was always something ridiculous happening on stage that kept my eyes glued on the actors. Sometimes it was songs like “What the Fuck was That?” featuring Ash and Scott doing the tango while uttering the eponymous phrase, or when the entire front row perpendicular to me was doused in fake blood from various sources. This is helped immensely by the fact that the actors get right up in your face and interact with the audience, as when Jake, played by Shane Robertson, had me high-five him during his song “Good Old Reliable Jake.” Even when the actors aren’t expressly interacting with the audience, they use the ENTIRE stage, so if you’re in the front row make sure to keep your feet tucked in.

Left to right: Josh Kemper, Kirby Gibson, Jordan Dell Harris, Shane Roberson, Robert Quintanilla. Photo by Evan Hanover.

Earlier I mentioned fake blood, and if you’ve ever seen any of the films in the Evil Dead series, you’ll know about the ridiculous geysers of blood that happen throughout the films, and Evil Dead the Musical is no different. There isn’t much blood during the first act, but once the second act begins the blood starts flying, and it doesn’t disappoint. There’s even a “Splatter Zone,” a portion of the seating area where all of the fake blood is generally aimed. You can buy tickets for that section if you’re brave enough. Even if you aren’t in the “Splatter Zone,” and are maybe just close to it, as I was, be prepared to get same fake blood on your person, because it gets sprayed everywhere. Along with the blood, there is plenty of crude language to scratch that adult-oriented musical itch you might have, and boy does it scratch the itch well, with the aforementioned song “What the Fuck Was That?” being a perfect example. As such, Evil Dead the Musical is definitely not a family-friendly production, so best to leave little Jimmy at home.

Left to right: Stevie Love, Jordan Dell Harris, Robert Quintanilla, Caitlin Jackson, Josh Kemper, Kirby Gibson

Speaking of songs, there are some amazing musical numbers in Evil Dead the Musical, and while not all are as vulgar as “What the Fuck Was That?,” they are all great. My personal favorite has to be “Do the Necronomicon” because it’s such an event. Everybody who’s been turned into a Deadite is a part of the number, and they get up in your face while they’re dancing, which makes it that much better.

Left to right: Jordan Dell Harris, Caitlin Jackson, Josh Kemper. Photo by Evan Hanover.

However, blood, swearing, and great musical numbers can’t make for a great musical by themselves, because you’ve got to have some great actors to do all that bleeding, swearing, singing, and dancing, and this production has great actors in spades. Jordan Dell Harris does an amazing job as Ash, and perfectly pulls off the badassness and dumbassness of Ash Williams, and even happens to sort of look like a young Bruce Campbell, which is a definite bonus. Caitlin Jackson was great as Cheryl, and stole the show every time she has a musical number, with her vocal abilities and range deserving noteworthy commendation. Stevie Love also deserves particular praise, not only for the fact that he’s pulling double duty as both Shelly and Annie Knowby, but the fact that he’s playing two women in a believable fashion. Shane Robertson was perfect as the indignant hick Jake, although I might be a little biased since he gave me a high-five.

left to right: Jordan Dell Harris, Stevie Love. Photo by Evan Hanover.

Evil Dead the Musical is a blood, vulgarity, and fun-filled romp that will appeal to lovers of B horror movies, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and of course, anyone who enjoys the goofier entries in the Evil Dead franchise, like Evil Dead II and especially Army of Darkness. Black Button Eyes Productions has done a rousing job of bringing Evil Dead the Musical to life at Pride Arts Center, and they didn’t even need to rely on Kandarian demons to do it. So, if you’re feeling groovy, grab your boomstick (or borrow one if you must) and go see Evil Dead the Musical at Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway, through February 16. Tickets are $30. Run time is 2 hours and 10 minutes, including a 10 minute intermission.

You say you don’t like the idea of being splashed or splattered with blood? If you’re in the Splatter Zone, you’ll get a poncho, free. And if you do find yourself splattered, never fear. It all washes out.

Do you like theater based on bloody horror movies? Third Coast Review gives you a look at all kinds of Chicago theater. Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!

James Brod
James Brod

James Brod recently graduated from Dominican University, with a degree in political science. Ironically, he had previously considered majoring in journalism, but didn’t want to write for a living. Funny how things turn out, isn’t it? You can find him wandering the northwest suburbs, or on Twitter at @JamesBrod12.