Review: 'Evil Dead The Musical' by Warner Stage Company

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

Torrington, CT - ‘Evil Dead The Musical’ comes with a warning in capital letters: “Viewer discretion advised, contains adult language and situations, prepare to get bloody in our Splatter Zone.” Ticket holders at the Warner Theatre’s Nancy Marine Studio Theatre were required by security to sign a waiver absolving the theatre of any liability if the skin or clothing of patrons were stained by the blood (fake, of course) or if they slipped on the copious amounts that fell in the aisles. Because my teen recently turned 18, he was able to sign his own form in order to enter the theatre and enjoy the musical based upon Sam Raimi’s 80s cult classic films ‘Evil Dead,’ ‘Evil Dead 2’ and ‘Army of Darkness.’ 

Keith Paul (of The Desultory Theatre Club) directed this “evening of singing, laughter and blood splatter” at the Nancy Marine three years ago and was excited to have been given a second crack at the show. According to Warner Executive Director Lynn Gelormino, no other show has had as many requests to repeat a production, so the cult sensation status is alive and well for this piece that Mr. Paul describes as the “oddly bizarre and weirdo fringe entertainment” that he loves.  Apparently the television release of Ash vs. the Evil Dead has made the Evil Dead franchise more popular than ever; all ages showed up for the performance I attended. 

The director acknowledged the top notch production team that surrounded him and the handful of wonderful new actors that he worked with to craft some crazy for the very willing audience. Those patrons in the floor seats (dubbed the “Splatter Zone”) were provided with clear plastic ponchos with hoods to wear for protection against the blood splatter. The hoods were necessary at one point when blood was squirted from above….seriously. Those of us sitting in the bleacher seats were far enough away from the action that we managed to escape splatter and I was grateful that the season tickets that were shared with us were for seats not close enough to get red but just perfect for enjoying the onstage fun. 

So five college students go to an abandoned cabin in the woods, and accidentally unleash an evil force that turns them all into demons. It’s all up to Ash (an S-Mart housewares employee, turned demon killing hero), and his trusty chainsaw to save the day. Hence the blood flying, body parts cut off and all that horror movie stuff, but there are also demons telling bad jokes… and all to music.

Undoubtedly because I have never seen any of the Evil Dead films, I didn’t really appreciate the book and lyrics by George Reinblatt as much as my seatmate saying a line or two along with the cast. I thought the music by Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris and Mr. Reinblatt (with additional music credited to the latter three and Rob Daleman) made the show so much better. Music director Meric Martin played bass in the orchestra, with Diana Lawlor on keyboard, Aaron Reid on guitar and Noel Roberge on drums. Signature choreography by Sharon A. Wilcox somehow made dancing a part of the gore. 

Tons of credit to the talented members of this young cast who owned their campy characters and played them for laughs. In his fifth role at the Warner, Josh Newey worked the hardest as Ash and was drenched in the fake blood by the end of his theatrical workout. Jenna L. Morin (‘American Idiot’ at the Warner) was a powerhouse Cheryl, the sister of Ash. Caitlyn Barra was the perfect combination of sexy and less than intelligent as Shelly and Shelby Raye was so strong in the role of Ash’s S-Mart coworker Linda. 

The terrific Cole Sutton rocked the role of Ash’s best friend Scott and Ruben Soto kept everyone laughing as the bumpkin “Good Ole Reliable” Jake.  Jake Finch (Fake Shemp) and Bryce Chamberlin (as the voice of the Moose head constructed by Ed Bassett and the Spirit of Prof. Knowby) were in the ensemble. Dick Terhune provided the voice of Professor Knowby. 

I especially enjoyed Olivia Hoffman (‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Hartford Stage) in the role of the professor’s over the top daughter and Daniel R. Willey as her long-suffering boyfriend and “Bit Part Demon” Ed. Mr. Willey also is credited with the Blood SFX. Kudos to the busy fight director/choreographer Rob Richnavsky and his assistant Chris Pytlak for keeping all of these actors safe. 

Stephen C. Houk did an amazing job of designing the set of the possessed cabin and then designed and executed the Splatter Zone, thereby adding a rather unique credit to his resume. Lighting by Breanna Riollano was purposely funny at times and sound by Chris LaPlante was usually sufficient. Costumes by Renee Purdy and Aurora Montenero were campy and perfect. 

After the show, many in the “blood-soaked” audience remained to take photos of themselves and cast members; one group brought a prop that was a statue of the main character and another brought along a chainsaw for their selfies. 

Many thanks for Naugatuck BOE Chair Dorothy Neth-Kunin and her husband for sharing their season tickets with my son and me so that we could attend this early Halloween event in Torrington. And what an experience it was.

Photos by Mandi Martini ©2016 The Warner Theatre