When I first decided to write a review for “Evil Dead: The Musical Ultimate 4D Experience,” I thought it would be basically a nice little puff piece explaining why I enjoy seeing it. But I think, if I simply do that, that I am doing it a disservice, and the more I think about it, I think that this piece needs to do more. I’m sorry if there are spoilers here, but fuck it; it’s my piece and I can say what I want.
So, where to begin?
What is Evil Dead?
Five college students, driving into the woods for a quiet spring break vacation. A creepy cabin, an ancient tome, and lots and lots of blood.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like fun to me!
Evil Dead is a blood-gushing movie trilogy (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and the incredible Army of Darkness) that is the brain-child of Director Sam Raimi. Starring the incredibly talented, yet professionally (and seemingly perpetually) underappreciated leading man Bruce Campbell, The Evil Dead films, with all of their slapstick comedy, Shatner-esque overacting, body dismembering, blood-soaked brilliance, is that little piece inside all of us that is eternally a child.
I realize that last bit might sound morbid considering the amount of gore there is in these movies, but bear with me here for just a second as I try to suss out a little bit more explanation.
When we’re chidren, we don’t have a real sense of what is “right” or “proper,” so we take pleasure in silly things, like physical comedy. The 3 Stooges, anyone? Was there ever anything funnier than watching the Stooges beat each other up? I don’t think so. (And apparently, neither did BC and SR, judging by their liberal use of Stoogian physical humor and the liberal employment of the “fake Shemp” body double technique.)
Anyway, because we enjoy these things as children, whenever we can be reminded of those more innocent times as adults, we grab onto that thing that brings us back to that time. Instead of worrying about bills, spouses, crappy co-workers, and commutes, we can return to those days when we could just be, and laugh, and not worry about anything.
So, the Evil Dead films allows us to tap into that sense of primal (and juvenile) joy. Very few critics and viewers would deny that the film and its sequels have ascended into the pantheon of cult films, not in spite of any perceived shortcomings, perhaps, but because of them, so obvious is the joy that the filmmakers took in the final project (Bruce Campbell’s memoirs of the physical hideousness of the actual production notwithstanding.) It is, for lack of a better term, the little film that could.
So we love the movies. Which brings me to what I’m supposed to be talking about:
Evil Dead: the movies, the blood, the chin, the….Musical?
A brief history of the show and its various productions can be found HERE, but I am going to comment specifically on the Sirc Michaels Production, currently playing at the V Theater in the Planet Hollywood Miracle Mile Shops in Las Vegas, Nevada (HERE).
“Evil Dead: The Musical Ultimate 4D Experience” takes us one step further than that sense of wonder at just watching the Evil Dead movies. Not only does the audience get to relive the films that bring us so much joy, but we get to experience those films as part of the “4D” experience. The music, the singing, and the immersive experience of being bloodied throughout the show taps into that sense of wonder we had as children on the most visceral level; not only do we get to watch, we get to be a part of it. We are Ash, Scotty, Sheryl, Annie, Shelly, and Linda. And, to a lesser extent, “good-old, reliable” Jake, and even “bit-part” Ed.
With songs like “Cabin in the Woods,” “Look Who’s Evil Now,” “Bit Part Demon,” and the instantly unforgettable “What The Fuck Was That?”* the audience is immediately swept up in a whirlwind of energy that can only be found in a live production.
And Sirc Michaels has certainly been able to put together that production. Now running for 2 years in the V Theater, this production of “Evil Dead: The Musical” is the only show to have started playing off the Strip (at the tiny Onyx theatre in Las Vegas) and made the transition to an On-Strip show. It has spent those 2 years running 2 nights a week (Fridays and Saturdays only), but recently expanded its run to 5 nights a week, being dark on Sunday and Monday.** This has not been without challenges however. Even Sirc Michaels admits that, because of the show’s history and fan loyalty, “This also means that there is a lot of pressure to not fuck it up.” I look forward to seeing this version at the earliest opportunity.
He also explains the balancing act of bringing a show like this to a market like Las Vegas: “The fans of EVIL DEAD are legion and they are rabid, and rightfully so. Ash is an iconic film character, and his pseudo-horror misadventures have entertained people for 30 years. If you’re going to bring those stories to life on stage, in a musical no less, you better respect the source material and amplify what fans want to see while making it accessible for people who have no idea what EVIL DEAD is.”
That’s the real key, here. If this was a show only for people who love Evil Dead, then it would probably still be playing at the Onyx.
But it’s not.
That is a testament to the accessibility of the material and the proficiency of the cast in bringing it to life for the audience, whatever their background with the material. It also speaks to the cast’s love of the material. Those cast members I approached appreciate what Sirc is doing and love Evil Dead.
And the cast is top-notch, with many of the cast having been around for almost a year. Most importantly, the lead actor, Ben Stobber, who plays Ash, has been with the production since the Onyx, as has Lorie Palkow, who plays Cheryl. This kind of front-line continuity results in some serious chemistry on-stage, and in a production that relies heavily on comedic and production timing, as well as reading and playing off of the audience’s reactions to it, this is crucial. In fact, the show was nominated for FIVE 2013 Broadway World Las Vegas Awards, with Ben Stobber winning for Best Lead Actor, so it’s definitely doing something right!
Interestingly, I believe the only major cast change between the shows I saw in July of 2013, Halloween of 2013, and February of 2014 was that of Scotty, Ash’s best friend and heavy comic lead. Ben, Lorie, Courtney Leone (pulling double-duty as Shelly and Annie), and Lynnae Meyers (as Linda) remained, and their performance was playful, animated, sincere, and impeccable in terms of providing the audience with experience they expected. As a whole, the entire show, all 2 hours of it, is a non-stop joyride through the Evil Dead universe, deftly combining the first two films, along with a closing nod to Army of Darkness.
But, somehow, this production is more than that. It’s more than just a musical take on some fan-favorite films. It manages, at its core (and especially for its hard-core fanbase), to be a sort of love letter to Bruce Campbell, the man who makes it all happen; the man who makes us all believe that, in the face of unstoppable evil, that we could somehow snark and bullshit our way out of it, all while getting the girl. The hidden nods to Bruce Campbell are everywhere, from the on-stage reading material of choice (found HERE) to an off-hand insult from Scotty to Ash (from HERE) They even get a little dig at Sam Raimi tucked in there, too.
Oh, yeah; there’s also blood.
Lots of blood.
20 GALLONS of blood per show, according to Sirc. All sprayed at those lucky (unlucky?) fans sitting in what is modestly called the “Splatter Zone.” It should probably be called the “Immersion Zone,” because no one that sits there gets away.
If you somehow manage to be missed by the blood coming from on-stage or from the darkness surrounding the audience, rest assured that you will be targeted by the cast so that you can take home a highly-personalized souvenir t-shirt.
Yeah, and this has been washed already.
And don’t wear clothes you like. Seriously. This isn’t Club54.
So I’ll admit that, in the end, this is a show I try to see whenever I’m in Las Vegas. Not only because I love the movies, but because the experience is so great.
Will you like it?
That is an excellent question. Truly, a superior bit of inquisitiveness on par with “Why did this apple just hit me on the fucking head?” and “I drank what?”***
Well, do you like to have a good time?
Do you like all of the other aspects of the show that I’ve talked about? Music? Live Theater? Comedy? Semi-naked chicks?
Oh? Did I not mention the semi-naked chicks? Sorry. Yeah; there’s a couple. It’s Vegas.
And the King needs his sugar, baby.
*My personal favorite.
**Sirc explains thusly: “The weekday performances take place in the same V Theater as our weekend performances, but in a new showroom that was built with the show in mind. There are video walls, an amped-up set, changes to some of the staging, and even changes to how certain scenes are presented. The comedy, songs, and everything that people have loved about our show are all still there. We’re just presenting it with different trappings.”
*** Thank you, Socrates… I mean, Val Kilmer.