|Kate Barrett, Nick Serrone, and Stevo Clay|
By Tina Arth
Other theaters offer boring options like front row seating, balcony seating, aisle seating – but for Halloween 2018, Theatre in the Grove offers the chillingly unorthodox options of splash zone and splatter zone seating. Thanks to director Zachary Centers and the Forest Grove troupe’s current production of Evil Dead: The Musical, audiences can get a few hours of “mature audiences only” respite from trick-or-treaters, Disney princesses, and all the rest of Big Candy’s assault on our official spooky season. The show is definitely not great art, but it is definitely great fun for adults who love over-the-top farce and refuse to completely grow up – think Rocky Horror on steroids, or Little Shop of Horrors on crack.
Canadian author George Reinblatt’s 2003 musical is based on the Evil Dead film series, and offers the broadest of parodies of the whole teen horror bloodbath genre. Five college students – Ash, his sister Cheryl, best friend Scott, Scott’s girlfriend Shelly, and Ash’s girlfriend Linda go off to spend the weekend in an isolated cabin in the woods. With this classic horror set-up, what can go right? While there is plenty of action and dialogue, for the careful reader the song list tells pretty much what to expect, as the cast delivers 21 musical numbers from ”Cabin in the Woods” through “It Won’t Let Us Leave”, “Join Us,” “I’m Not a Killer,” “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons,” “It’s Time,” and finally “Blew that B**** Away.”
The toughest role goes to Nick Serrone’s “Ash” who, when not wielding chainsaws and sawed-off shotguns, is a stock boy in aisle 5 of the local S-Mart where he met cashier Linda (Aubrey Slaughter). The role of Ash was originally played by Bruce Campbell, and Serrone definitely captures some of Campbell’s bizarre heroism. The shamelessly campy “Housewares Employee,” gives Serrone and Slaughter a chance to shine as they deliver the quintessential love anthem, and it is impossible not to compare the infatuated pair to Little Shop’s Audrey and Seymour. From an overall impressive performance, I would pick the life and death battle between Ash and his hand as Serrone’s best scene – his athletic grasp of physical comedy is breathtaking. Stevo Clay’s “Scott” is convincingly dumb as a box of lust-riddled rocks, yet his limited brainpower sparkles when compared to Jeananne Kelsey’s slutty “Shelley.” Kelsey is a fine dancer, and her choreography for “Do the Necronomicon” really sells Evil Dead’s homage to “The Time Warp.” Kate Barrett’s mopey “Cheryl” is clearly the intellectual in the group; neither turning her into a zombie nor locking her in the cellar dims her IQ, and Barrett’s physical outbursts, wisecracks, and furious puns provide several of the show’s best moments.
Each of the other three key cast members get at least one great number. Isabella Steele’s “Annie” completely nails the lead on the exquisitely clumsy “All the Men In My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons,” and Trevor Winder does a shockingly good job singing and dancing his way through the hen-pecked Ed’s “Bit Part Demon.” Words cannot express my surprised glee at Travis Schlegel’s “Good Old Reliable Jake” – a good ol’ boy taking country music to dizzying heights of absurdity.
The set, special effects, lighting and sound are essential to express the kitschy wit of the show – director/set designer Centers and his crew pull out all the stops with a vibrating floor, demon-possessed props, severed but still-active limbs, misting and spurting blood, and a host of other high and low-tech touches. A few blood pack problems and some muffled lines make very little difference, given the utter absurdity of the entire production.
Finally, conductor Cory Sweany and his five-person orchestra are beautifully placed upstairs and upstage, where they do full justice to an eclectic score by Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris and playwright Reinblatt.
The show is clearly not for all audiences, and utterly inappropriate for children, the blood-averse, or people who dislike campy musicals. However, the rest of the theater-going public should seriously consider spending a few hours at Theatre in the Grove – may I suggest the midnight showing on October 31st?
Evil Dead: The Musical is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through November 4th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 p.m., and a special midnight Halloween showing on October 31st.