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Paulanne Simmons

Evil Laughter

Jenna Coker, Jennifer Byrne, Brandon Wardell, Ryan Ward, Renée Klapmeyer. Photo by Carol Rosegg

"Evil Dead the Musical"
Directed by Christopher Bond
New World Stages
340 West 50th St., between 8th and 9th avenues
Opened Nov. 1, 2006
Mon. thru Thurs. 8 p.m., Fri. 7:30, 11 p.m., Sat. 7, 11 p.m.
(check for exceptions)
$71-$29 (212) 239-6262 or telecharge.com
Open run
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons

I have to admit, I would most likely never have seen "Evil Dead the Musical" if my husband and son had not insisted on it. I thought that, like the movie, the musical based on it would probably be gross, infantile and crude. In fact it was. But "Evil Dead the Musical" was also clever, quick and often extremely entertaining.

George Reinblatt, who wrote the book and lyrics, included many of the original lines from Sam Raimi's 1981 cult classic. Some of those lines are as famous as the movie, and a good number of people in the audience responded enthusiastically when they heard them.

The story goes like this: Two friends, Ash (Ryan Ward) and Scott (Brandon Wardell), along with Ash's sister, Cheryl (Jenna Coker) and his girlfriends Linda (Jennifer Byrrne), and Shelly (Renee Klapmeyer), a girl Scott recently met at a bar, all decide to take a vacation by breaking into a cabin in the woods where no one will know where they are.

What could go wrong? Plenty. It seems this cabin is haunted by demons who take over the souls of these unsuspecting victims, one by one, until only Ash remains to defeat them. The ridiculous plot soon defeated Raimi, whose horror thriller quickly turned into a comedy thriller. And it might have defeated the musical's director, Christopher Bond, had he not known from the beginning to go for the funny bone and not the jugular vein.

Tom Walker, Jenna Coker, Brandon Wardell,
Jennifer Byrne, Darryl Winslow. Photo by Carol Rosegg

But the real winner in this show is the score by Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris, Bond and Reinblatt. The score is certainly derivative, but that doesn't make it any less musically pleasing. The love song "Housewares Employee," the soft-shoe "Bit-Part Demon," the ballad "All the Men in My life" and the dance "Do the Necronomicon" are particularly successful.

David Gallo's set includes a talking moose, a trap door and moving trees. And lighting designer Jason Lyons uses strobe lights, fog, smoke and other cool effects to create a phony atmosphere of terror.

There is a good deal of doubling up on roles. After Ash kills one of his unfortunate friends who goes over to the dark side, he or she is replaced by a new character (Annie, the daughter of the professor who unwittingly first unleashed the demons, and her assistant, Ed, etc.). Fortunately, the cast has tremendous energy. Ward has a strong, vibrant voice and knows how to be sincerely insincere.

You don't have to be familiar with the movie to enjoy "Evil Dead." But this musical is certainly not for everyone. The gory scenes include severed heads and hands, bloodbaths (especially risky if you're in the splatter zone) and disembowelment. But it's obvious from the beginning that this is cartoon death. No one is really hurt and no one really dies.

So if you secretly (or not so secretly) like a little blood and guts and you crave an evening of over-the-top fun, "Evil Dead the Musical" should be your cup of venom.

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