We’re Alone in the Woods. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Evil Dead The Musical (V Theatre)userpic=las-vegasLast night, we saw our third show in Vegas: “Evil Dead: The Musical” (FB). This is a musical I’ve been wanting to see for a while — I’ve had the CD on my iPod since 2009, and I’ve gotten a hoot out of the 2006 original off-Broadway cast. Sirc Michael’s production (FB) of the show at the V/Saxe Theatre Complex (FB) in the Desert Passage Mall Miracle Mile Mall has been running a while (I think they said it is the longest running production of the show), and our visit was an opportunity to finally put the show with the music. I’m glad I did, and modulo a few problematic areas, the show is a hoot and well worth seeing. Be careful, however, if you are in the first few rows.

As you may have surmised, “Evil Dead: The Musical” is a parody of all the slasher horror films, and particularly the Evil Dead franchise. Reading through the summary of the films (which I actually have never seen), it is about 80% of the original Evil Dead movie, 80% of the sequel Evil Dead II,  and perhaps 10% of Army of Darkness. The story concerns five college students: Ash, an S-Mart Housewares Employee; Linda, his girlfriend; Cheryl, Ash’s younger sister; Scotty, Ash’s best bud and friend; and Shelly, a girl Scotty picked up at a nearby bar three days ago. They are going off to break into an abandoned cabin in the woods for a weekend of debauchery. When they arrive at the cabin, they start to hear odd voices, and while investigating, discover a copy of the Sumarian Necronomicon (Book of the Dead), a number of weapons (axe, historical knife, gun), and a recording in the cellar. Playing the recording unleases the demons… and one by one each gets possessed and killed in various bloody and punny ways. That’s the basic story that come in from the original movie. The sequel comes in through the introduction of Annie (daughter of the cabin’s owner); Ed, her boyfriend; and Jake, their guide to the cabin. They eventually make their way there and discover Ash and all the dead bodies. Not surprisingly, they start to get possessed as well, and things get even bloodier. Eventually, Ash (who cut off his hand when it turned evil) mounts a chainsaw on his hand (hence, the picture) and starts killing every demon in sight. But demons never stay dead, do they?

Before I go into the production itself, a few words about the theatre itself. As you know if you know me, we go to theatre very regularly. When a show is called for a particular time, we’re used to being able to go into the theatre about ½ hour before the show. We’re used to getting a program that lists the actors and provides their credits. There was none of that here. We were told to arrive at 9pm to start lining up for a 10pm show. We arrived about 8:50pm, and were directed upstairs to the bar area (others arriving later were evidently lined up and had souvenir pictures taken — we’re glad we missed the pictures, but the V Theatre needs a consistent process). Eventually, the groups combined upstairs… and waited. The previous show, Zombie Burlesque, was running late. When you added in their picture process, we didn’t enter the theatre until around 10:15 pm, and the show didn’t start until around 10:30 pm. There was no communication of this delay to the audience. We entered the theatre — with no program being handed out (luckily, I learned from talking to a staff member that credits were available online). These are all correctable problems — and they should be addressed to provide a good audience experience.

Back to the show itself. This show is a cheesy and fun parody. If that’s the type of show you enjoy, you’ll get a kick out of this. There is loads of profanity, but words only — this is not risque in what you see (at least in terms of sex). The violence and gore is very cartoonish. As for the parody itself … I happen to enjoy parody musicals. I’ve seen quite a few, from Brain from Planet X, to Silence: The Musical, to Triassic Parc: The Musical, to … This is pretty good on the parody scale: it amps up the silliness of the original concept, grabs and exaggerates the recognizable parts of the original movies, and most importantly … it knows what it is. The cast has fun with this, playing with the puns and the humor. It is clear they enjoy their work, and get a kick about giving the audience a good show and a good time. This probably is why this show gets such reviews — it isn’t perfect, but it is fun. If you want polish, go see Elton John or Rock of Ages. One other thing that I appreciated is that, at least based on the cast album, this production included the entire show (including the intermission). This is rare for a Las Vegas Strip production — most of the shows do slightly cut-down versions for audiences that can’t sit for longer than 90 minutes with no intermission.

This show advertises itself as “4D”. That’s not a count of the deaths :-). Rather, it refers to the fact that if you are in the first few rows, you will get wet. They give T-Shirts to the official “splash zone”, but with the amount of liquid they drench you in, don’t wear something you care about. The actors seem to enjoy drenching the audience in the front. Note that there may be a little overspray, so be prepared.

The performances themselves were quite good. In the lead position was Ben Stobber (FB). Stobber has won awards for this performance, and it is easy to see why. I’ve written before about how I enjoy it when actors take a role, inhabit it, and have fun with it — and Stobber is clearly doing that with this role. Although he had one or two minor off notes, they get lost in the overall effectiveness of his performance. I also found it interesting to watch the height differential between Stobber and the rest of the cast: he seems to tower at least a foot over most of them. It creates this interesting image of this clean-cut good guy, towering over evil, chainsaw in hand, as he prepares to kick ass.

Another notable performance was given by Lorie Palkow (FB) as Cheryl, Ash’s younger sister. Palkow originally caught my eye because I tend to be drawn to nerdy girls. Looking a little bit like Sarah Gilbert, she gave a performance full of enthusiasm and fun. She had a strong singing voice and handled the change in personality quite well. As with Stobber, you could just tell she was having fun with this role.

Rounding out the members of the cast drawn from the first Evil Dead movie were Jennifer Daquila (FB) (Shelly), Kolton Rostron (FB) (Scotty), and Lynnae Meyers (FB) (Linda) [it is unclear who played the possessed Candarian Demon moose]. Daquila (in her Shelly incarnation) captured the dumb blonde caricature well and with enthusiasm. Rostron also captured his caricature  of the dumb bro well, especially in his overuse of the “Stupid Bitch” line. Rostrom was particularly notable for his glee in drenching the first few rows of the audience with the blood from his intestines. Lastly, Meyers’ Linda was a beauty who drew your eyes when she was onstage, at least before she became demonic. All were good singers an performers. Lastly, Beau Rigbye/FB was an obvious Fake Shemp in his role as the dead headless Linda (the belly gave him away). [By the way, what is it with actors and concierges? Both Stobber and Meyers work as concierges at Aria; my friend Shae, who is also into performing, also works as a concierge.]

Turning to the cast members drawn from Evil Dead II:   Jennifer Daquila (FB) reappeared as Annie, discarding her dumb blonde for a more overbearing sort. Christopher Lyons/FB was her boyfriend and bit-part player Ed, and Greg Korin (FB) was good ol’ Jake. All played their roles well, and Korin in particular (if memory serves correct) enjoyed drenching the audience.

Lastly, rounding out the cast as performers according to the website, but with unspecified roles, were: Shawnnie Slaughter (FB), Big Sexy, Chris Weidman, Tori Imlach/FB, Kirsten Heibert, Evelyn Benitez, Jeremiah Riesenbeck, and John Tomasello (FB). Slaughter was fun to watch as some sort of zombie who was entertaining those waiting in the bar with some interesting improv, as well as seating guests in the theatre. As for the others, I guess that they are understudies, swings, and other unnamed people (such as the MC).

Turning to the technical side of things…. big sigh. Lets start with what worked: the sets (designed by Tim Burris) were simple, but they worked. This show apparently moves between theatres in the V/Saxe complex, which demands simple movable sets. What they had was sufficient for the job. Similarly, the costumes by Stephen C. Halford were effective and titillated just a little (although there were some continuity problems with Linda’s blouse); his  special effects were a little more cheesy (but that’s an artifact of the time they have to change in and out of them). No credit is provided for the lighting, but it worked reasonably well. The blood effects by LeeAnn Wagner were plentiful and smelled of cherry; I was glad I was not sitting in the front row.

So, you’re wondering, why the big sigh? The answer is the sound design of Thomas Chrastka. I understand the demands of having to shift theatres, and of coming in after a different show with different actors and different demands. Still, the actors were over-amplified, making it difficult to hear the clever dialogue and puns… and even worse, during the musical numbers, there was too much reverb which muddied the actor’s singing. The sound system needs some retuning to return it to the crispness required.

Rounding out the credits: the production was directed by Sirc Michaels (FB) — as I’ve noted before, I can never separate direction from the acting. Choreography was by Jennie Carroll, and it worked well — particularly during the necronomicon dance. Fight choreography was by JP Dostal, and could have been a little stronger during the shooting sequences. You can see the remainder of the credits (including technicians, publicity, and the like) at the Evil Dead website.

Evil Dead: The Musical” (FB) continues at the V/Saxe Theatre Complex (FB) well, umm, until it no longer brings in enough money to cover the rent. Tickets are available through the V/Saxe Theatre Complex Box Office, and through numerous discount outlets throughout the city. I found it worth the money, especially if you are looking for a fun time and enjoy parodies. Note that the show runs very late, and watch out for the splash zone.

A final comment on the location of the show. The V/Saxe Theatre is in the former Desert Passage Mall, which wraps around the former Aladdin hotel. We were there for the ACSAC conference in 2003, and a number of the stores are still in the mall from that time (particularly Cheeseburger Mary’s and the Italian restaurant across from the theatre). Much as Planet Hollywood has tried to “Miracle Mile” the mall, the interior still screams Desert Passage, and the southern exterior is almost unchanged from the faux Arabian desert. I kept trying to remember what was in the V Theatre space back in 2003, but I drew a blank. I think, if PH wants to successfully transition away from the Aladdin legacy, they need to do something about retheming the mall whilst staying open and keeping vendors. A difficult problem. I did read that they are about to retheme the southern exterior.

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.]

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  We have no more shows planned for while we are in Vegas, but it’s busy when we return: Saturday is a twofer day: Hairspray” at Nobel Middle School followed by “The Lion in Winter” at The Colony Theatre (FB). The next weekend brings both “Porgy and Bess” at the Ahmanson and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at REP East (FB). The next two weekends are currently unscheduled: Karen is helping Erin move, and there’s not that much calling to me from Goldstar. June is busy. It starts with a CDF Conference for Karen while I see The Fantastiks at Good People Theatre (FB). We lose the following weekend to a Bat Mitzvah. The remainder of the month brings “Stoneface: The Rise and Fall of Buster Keaton” at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on June 22, and “I’m Not Just a Comic Genius” at Secret Rose (FB) on June 27. July will be busy: “Ghost” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/5, “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at REP East (FB) the weekend of 7/12, “Once” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/19, “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, and “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. August then remains quiet as we work around vacations and such, but things start to get busy again in September and October. More on that later. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.