RISING SUN —The Evil Dead franchise is perhaps one of the most influential yet underrated and under appreciated franchises in horror.
The films, known for their B-movie charm and unique comedy-meets-horror approach, have become cult classics and not only launched the career of director Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell, but they helped create and refine some of the most well known horror tropes still used today.
So it seems incredibly unlikely that some cult B movie horror flicks would turn into one of the funniest musicals that I’ve had the pleasure to see. I am a big fan of the movies, yes, but that doesn’t stop what directors Bambi Johnson and Bob Denton have created with their new group, Deer in the Spotlight productions, from being one of the best times at the theater I’ve had. This shocombines elements from the first two films, in which lead character Ash (played by Michael Bliss) travels to a cabin in the woods with a group of his friends. They uncover the fabled Book of the Dead in the cabin and after unwittingly unleashing the evil inside it, start to become possessed one by one, and it’s ultimately up to Ash to survive.
But in the spirit of the movies, the musical takes the campy humor of them and dials it up past where most musicals go. And it absolutely works. The cast in this show are so committed to the humor and jokes that any audience can’t help but laugh.
This is a horror musical at heart, and the notion of getting splattered by fake blood in the audience, or seeing a show where a headless corpse attacks a man with a chainsaw may seem intimidating. But directors Johnson and Denton aren’t worried.
“I wasn’t worried at all,” Johnson said. “People are looking for alternative things to do this Halloween season, and I think this is something to do for that. I like the idea people may have trepidation at first.”
Denton agreed. “I was a bit intimidated at first, but we have people coming from New York and Virginia for this show, so I wasn’t too scared anymore.”
Lead actor Michael Bliss felt that despite the reputation of the films, there’s something for all audiences in the musical.
“If you like singing and dancing and are more traditional, we’ve got that for you. If you’re a big horror fan and want to see someone chopping their hand off with a chainsaw, we’ve got that too,” he said.
Across the board, the main challenge of this show was taking something previously done on a larger stage (the show was performed at Milburn Stone Theatre last year) and moving it to a much more intimate space at Street Lamp productions.
“The biggest challenge was putting the show in a space this small,” Denton said, with Johnson adding, “I loved the challenge, though. I really enjoyed working in a black box setting and having it be so intimate.”
And the set is pretty incredible. The whole theater, audience included, was captured in the ambiance and it sells every second of the illusion.
The songs here are fantastic as well, with more than a few being earworms to the highest degree, and the lyrics are so irreverent and hilarious that I found myself in stitches more than once.
Perhaps that itself is the crux of the show. This show is a love letter to the audacity and ridiculous, yet sometimes terrifying nature of the original films. They were fun, and this directors and actors alike want the audience walking away having had fun.
“I hope people laugh until their bellies hurt,” Bliss said. “Right from the opening song you’re laughing, and this is a role I had so much fun with. If you can have fun with this show, that’s all we can ask for.”
The directors hope to make this show a yearly ritual for them and audiences, and it seems they’ve truly found their calling on a production like this.
“We’re not letting our talent go to waste,” Denton said. “We’re a group of people who are taking a chance on their own, and we have a very talented group here.”
Johnson simply added, “A show like this...it’s what validates me. It’s what I live for. It’s what I do.”
With such an impeccably funny and committed cast as well as a spirit of pure fun in the air, this is the perfect Halloween treat for any horror fan or even those who just love catchy, well produced musicals. Just be prepared to get splattered if you’re in the first few rows. But hey, that’s part of the fun.
‘Evil Dead — The Musical’ runs Oct. 20 and 21 at Street Lamp Productions in Rising Sun. This show is intended for mature audiences. Tickets and info available at streetlampproductions.org.