Doris the Deadite greets us atop the stairs leading to Planet Hollywood’s V3 Theater in Las Vegas. Wearing a blood-splotched white dress with a matching white hat nestled on her curly blonde hair, Doris smiles through the peeling gray skin of her face. Teeth bared, eyes darting from sunken sockets, Doris cackles and beckons us closer for a photo. Welcome to the immersive atmosphere of Evil Dead The Musical Ultimate 4D Experience.
A tasty slice of horror heaven from director/producer Sirc Michaels that’s based on Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, as well as the book and lyrics of George Reinblatt, this Vegas production is packed with nods to its beloved source material, but also boasts buckets of blood-drenched originality.
After our photo is snapped with Doris, we hang out in the bar area for a bit before another Deadite calls us into the theater. As we walk down a short hallway, one fellow attendee tells me he’s wanted to see this production since it debuted in Toronto in 2003, and that he purchased the musical’s soundtrack to hold him over until this fateful night finally came.
Sweet’s “The Ballroom Blitz” greets the entering crowd, pulsating from the speakers as Doris gyrates across the empty stage like one of the students cutting loose in The Breakfast Club. The Deadite usher/emcee points us towards our seats, which are two rows up from the “Splatter Zone.” Comprised of the theater’s first two rows, this zone’s theatergoers wear white Evil Dead T-shirts and are susceptible to fake blood spillage during the show. If you’ve seen the films, then you can imagine the buckets of red syrupy goop sloshed on these folks by show’s end.
Soon the lights dim, Doris’ dancing concludes, and the show commences. The musical starts off with a familiar, though slightly altered, setup. S-Mart employee Ash is heading to an abandoned cabin in the woods with his girlfriend and co-worker Linda, book-smart sister Cheryl, best bud and party animal Scott, and Scott’s three-day girlfriend, the not-too-bright Shelly. Soon after arriving at the cabin, they venture into the cellar and discover a book bound in human skin and inked in human blood: the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis. When they play the taped recordings of one of the book’s passages, demonic forces are unleashed, first infecting the forest and then spreading to Ash’s friends, turning them one by one into the conniving, violent, zombie-like Deadites.
Composed of most of the characters and settings from The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987), with some dialogue and humor from Army of Darkness (1992) thrown in for good measure, Evil Dead The Musical dances down the horror-comedy tightrope with a fervent energy, going for laughs early and often, and almost always succeeding. While it doesn’t take itself too seriously, its passionate love for its source material is evident throughout, from the tree branches scratching against the window to Ash raising his sawed-off shotgun and declaring, “This… is my boomstick!” There are even some noticeable nods to the makers of the movies, like when a Deadite pokes fun at 2002’s Spider-Man (directed by Raimi), or when the bookish Cheryl curls up in the corner with a copy of Bruce Campbell’s autobiography.
One of the nice things about Sirc Michaels’ production is that it doesn’t rush into the bloodbath Evil Dead fans know it inevitably will become. We get a substantial amount of time with the young core cast as they lounge around the cabin and sing a few musical numbers that don’t involve demonic possession. It’s in these moments that we get acquainted with Scott’s sex-driven comedic nature, Cheryl’s shy sensibility, and Ash and Linda’s innocent (a little too innocent for Ash’s taste) romance. It would have been easy to dive right into the shock-a-minute gore-fest of the films’ latter halves, but the musical’s gradual buildup provides some welcome tension amidst the actors’ boisterous banter.
Propelling the story and spaced out perfectly amongst the often hilarious dialogue are the show’s inventive songs. Displaying some impressive vocal chords throughout the entire cast, numbers like "What the F$#@ Was That?”, "Bit-Part Demon", "All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons", and "Blew That Bitch Away" perfectly embody the musical’s ability to mine memorable moments and character reactions for comedic pay dirt. Like a clown making a balloon animal, Michaels’ cast transforms stabbings, shotgun blasts, and sanguinary deaths into the subjects of bright, catchy tunes that linger with you long after the curtain drops (I was still humming "Do the Necronomicon" on the plane ride home). The lurid lyrics and fantastic choreography should eventually immortalize this material across multiple generations in a fashion similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Evil Dead fans should be more than pleased with actor Chris Weidman’s portrayal of Ash. From the epic eyebrow arch to his sweet-talking smoothness to the righteous outrage of losing his hand and the subsequent chainsaw-sporting confidence that comes after the dismemberment, Chris Weidman goes all-in as Ash without going too far over the top. Bruce Campbell would be proud.
All of the supporting actors jump into their roles with equal glee, imbuing the musical with a raucous energy from start to finish. A dual turn by actress Jennifer Daquila as the authoritative Annie (who appears alongside other Evil Dead II characters like the academic-minded Ed and the backwoods-styled Jake) and the not-the-brightest-bulb Shelly is admirable, considering that her characters are polar opposites. Actor James “Big Sexy” White manages to make Scott both obnoxious and lovable, and Greg Korin as the bearded Jake steals scenes with his wide-eyed exclamations and is occasionally a welcome voice for the audience, even pointing out in a brief aside that his girlfriend Bobby Joe is absent because her presence would be redundant considering that Cheryl has already been infected by the possessed trees (both Scott and Jake also make thoroughly funny blood donations to the Splatter Zone).
Not to be forgotten is Kirsten Heibert’s convincing transformation from mild-mannered Cheryl to snarling cellar-dwelling Deadite, and Tori Imlach’s genuine sweetness as Ash’s girlfriend Linda, making the Necronomicon’s tainting of that sweetness all the more jarring. And finally, from his Evil Ed reference to a talented lead performance in the song “Bit-Part Demon”, Christopher Lyons is wonderful as Annie’s boyfriend, a guy who can’t get a word in edgewise… at least in his human form.
At S-Mart in the final scene, Evil Dead The Musical literally gets the audience out of their seats, as we are urged to stand up and participate in one final Thriller-esque run-through of the Necronomicon dance, ending the show on a collaborative note. The crowd lets loose with plenty of praise as each actor takes their bow before the curtains are drawn on the bloodstained set.
After the show, a gore-covered, sweaty, yet good-spirited Chris Weidman comes out to the bar’s lounge to pose with fans as Ash—complete with boomstick and chainsaw. Shaking the blood-smeared, oil-stained blade of the sacred Deadite-dicing power tool after our picture is taken, it’s as if I’m interacting with a part of Raimi’s cult classic world that’s come to life. A little later, walking down the stairs we had originally ascended, there is only one word that properly describes how I feel after seeing Sirc Michaels’ Evil Dead production: groovy.