Whitehorse, it seems, has such an insatiable appetite for high-camp horror that the Guild Theatre has added another week to its run of Evil Dead: The Musical.
The spring break-themed romp comes with a caution: if you intend to sit in the first few rows, be prepared for laundry afterward. You’ll be in what’s called the “splatter zone”.
Since its origins as a musical theatre exercise at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, the show has become a minor cult classic worldwide, even running continuously on the Las Vegas Strip since June, 2012.
“When I got the job at the Guild, it was number one on my list of shows that I wanted to produce and direct,” says the theatre’s artistic director, Brian Fidler.
“I’ve been talking about it with some friends up here for a number of years, and I was just looking for an opportunity to do it.”
In 2003, writer George Reinblatt got the go-ahead from filmmaker Sam Raimi for a musical-comedy treatment of his 1981 horror film, The Evil Dead and its 1987 sequels, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness.
“It’s camp all the way. I didn’t want to layer on the cheese too thick, so I had them play it pretty straight, but it’s still super campy,” Fidler says.
The story line is the standard horror trope of naïve youth making stupid choices that put them in danger.
In this case, it’s five college students on spring break who bust into an abandoned cabin in the woods and discover a supposedly ancient book called The Necromicon, based on horror stories from the 1920s by H.P. Lovecraft.
Along with this “book of the dead,” is a tape recording by the cabin’s owner, Professor Raymond Knowby, which unleashes the book’s evil spells. One by one, the students become demonically possessed, and must survive until dawn to be freed.
With a roster of 13 pun-filled songs, Evil Dead: The Musical is generally considered a rock musical, although Fidler suggests the range of genres makes it more mock rock.
“There’s this super-duper catchy number called “Cabin in the Woods” that sets up the whole show, and there’s another song (whose title is not suitable for a family publication) that’s kind of like a bossa nova.”
There’s even a nod or two to the more famous Rocky Horror Show, with one song that’s an homage to Meatloaf’s character, Eddie, and a number called “Do the Necromicon” that riffs on Rocky Horror’s “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again.”
And there’s blood. A lot of blood. Especially after Adam Macdougall as the male lead, Ash, chops off his own hand (all the better to hold a chainsaw with, my dear).
“Some of the further-back rows might get a little bit of splatter on their glasses, but mostly it’s contained to the front rows of those who really want to get sprayed,” Fidler says.
At the dress rehearsal, several students from the Music Arts and Drama program (MAD) occupied the first few rows, wearing white t-shirts and eager for a soaking.
“We tried to splatter them to their satisfaction, but I think we learned that we needed to use more blood. So after that I was looking for more places where we could cover people with blood,” he says.
“On opening night, there were a couple of people in the front row wearing white hazmat suits, and they were just ready for it.”
That first-night crowd also included several people who knew the show well enough to sing along heartily with the performers.
“There’s great numbers. People walk out of the theatre humming those songs,” the director says.
“There is a lot of harmony work in the show that is not for beginners. We’ve got some pretty heavy hitters in there who are experienced musical theatre people, who are really anchoring the show,” he says.
“Then we have a couple of new people who are not as experienced in singing, but they have definitely had the chance to learn from the more experienced cast members (such as Fiona Solon). There was a lot of natural talent going into it.”
Solon plays Ash’s prudish sister, Cheryl, the first to succumb to the evil spell. She spends most of the play locked in the basement of Donald Watt’s realistic set, popping up regularly to unleash a string of puns, and eat another character live.
Others in the cast include Miranda Angel as Ash’s girlfriend, Linda, Kevin Ray as his best friend, Scott, and Krisandra Reid, who plays both ditzy Shelly and Dr. Knowby’s uber-smart daughter, Annie.
James Cleary appears as “good old reliable Jake”, while Shahin Mohammidi plays Ed (and a stuffed deer head), and Chris MacFarlane provides the voice of Dr. Knowby.
MAD students James Kroken, Loughran Thorson-Looysen and Martina Vos play evil trees, while 13-year-old Hunter Vincent plays Ash’s severed hand, in a turn reminiscent of the Thing from the Addams Family film.
Musical direction is by David Sutton, and props were created by the Guild’s general manager, Jen Hamilton.
Evil Dead: The Musical runs Wednesday through Saturday until March 25, with a curtain time of 8:00 p.m. sharp.