UPDATE, Thursday night: Additional seats added Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night. Check availability at SVT tickets.
UPDATE: New shows added: Wednesday, October 28 and Saturday afternoon, October 31.
Michael McKelvey and the cast & crew of Evil Dead, The Musical have a hit on their hands, if you take as evidence the turnout on opening night. The scene at the Salvage Vanguard was like trying to load a 747 at a tin-roofed shack in the Caribbean.
Michael was astonished. Once he'd gotten the surging, enthusiastic elbow-to-elbow crowd into their places, he told us that as of that afternoon they'd had only 60 seats confirmed -- 30 reservations and another 30 distributed to the press and to friends of the company.
He told the folks in the "splash zone" of the first three rows that they wouldn't need those black plastic garbage-bag ponchos until the second act.
This was an audience of happy 20-somethings, except for me and for two rather elegantly deliberate older gentlemen wearing cowboy hats. They all appeared to know the story established by the three 1980s horror flicks that I had never seen or had any interest in seeing.
Five young people set out to spend a weekend at a remote cabin in the woods. Two couples: Ash and Cheryl (David Gallagher and Kelly Bales) and Scott and Shelly (Christopher Skillern and Macey Mayfield); and Ash's bratty little sister Cheryl (Corley Pillsbury). No, they don't know the owner. They're just going to break in and have a good time. The guys are hot for the girls and NO ONE IMAGINES THAT ANYTHING BAD COULD HAPPEN (ooh!). But we know that there's an ancient book of the dead involved, because this creepy guy told us so. The vanished owner has left a tape recorder reciting spells to invoke demons and that gullible Ash just insists on listening to THE WHOLE INCANTATION!!
The bratty sister gets it first, turns into a demon and gets stuffed down into the cellar where she keeps trying to get at the rest of our innocents. Nobody can get away. Not only is the bridge mysteriously washed out, but the TREES ARE ALIVE! The unseen demons transform the others one by one, as our hero Ash resists with gun and chainsaw, losing a hand in the first act but hardly missing a beat. And hey, these spectators know the sacred text. They chanted along with Ash as he made his encomium of the powers of the double-barreled shotgun.
It's outrageous, it's funny, it's a big cartoon in primary colors set to an energetic score and lyrics that offer doo-wop, 80s pop sounds, and up-tempo ballads (e.g., "All The Men In My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons"). For the Latin American number so characteristic of American musical theatre, Ash and his buddy Scott celebrate surviving the first onslaught of ravening transformed acquaintances with a divinely funny tango built on the exclamation, "What the fuck was that?"
Connor Hopkins designed a surprise animation, and it's not giving too much away to say that the demon in question, voiced and operated by Jason Vines, sounds a whole lot like Bullwinkle.
Truth be told, despite the wicked ugly zombies, the chain saw, the saw-the-woman in half effects and the spurts of some impressive but anemic looking blood, there's not a dark moment in the thing. We're secure, not only behind the fourth wall and the splash zone boundary, but also in the knowledge that what we're all mocking is a movie, for chrissake. Ash, at a minimum, is going to prevail through this one just the way that Gene Autry, Flash Gordon and Hopalong Cassidy used to triumph in the weekly serials shown down at the movie house. His sister and friends are pretty clueless, so they kinda deserve what they get, and in fact, the transformation seems to give them a new purpose in non-life.
Rounding out the cast and giving Ash someone to talk to in the second act are Jake the creepy overall-wearing guy in the woods, the articulate archeologist Annie, daughter of the para-scientist who started all this mess, and her boyfriend Ed. Matt Connely camps it up appropriately as Jake. Maggie Wilhite plays Annie's emphatically naive erudition with relish. David Ponton works a long, funny trope with Ed's inarticulate plight and eventual triumph on the Dark Side. And not to forget Alexa Doggett and Ryan Borses as those bad old trees.
David Gallagher as our hero Ash is a fountain of manic energy. Gallagher is one of the smartest young actors now working in Austin. He has the good looks and unpredictability of a choirboy with a wild streak. Seeing him mime astonishment or graduate to gunslinger mode is worth the price of admission. And Kelly Bales matches him point for point, at least until she meets her own demon doom.
This being a musical with a LOUD band, the cast was duly mic'd up. In the combat and scrambling those microphones went wonky from time to time, but none of them dropped out completely or for long. I did want to dial down the music so that I could follow the words more closely. In the run-up to this production, Lisa Scheps of KOOP-FM and Michael McKelvey played some studio-recorded numbers from Evil Dead that gave a lot better access to the cleverness of the lyrics.
The program being on FM, though, they didn't get to play that inspiring tango.
Review by Clare Croft for Statesman's Austin360 "Seeing Things" art blog, October 11
Review by Barry Pineo for the Austin Chronicle, October 15
Review by Dan Solomon at austinist.com, October 15
Robert Faires' article on Halloween shows, featuring Evil Dead, Austin Chronicle, October 21
Review by Elani Hamaras at AustinOnStage.com, October 22
KOOP-FM's Lisa Scheps interviews Michael McKelvey and plays recorded music from Evil Dead, The Musical on her program "Off Stage and On The Air, October 5 (30 min). Numbers presented:
Book of the Dead (:37)
Cabin in the Woods (3:17)
I’m Not a Killer (1:37)
It’s Time (2:35)
All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed By Candarian Demons (3:23)
Brian Paul Scipione interviews Mike McKelvey for Insite Magazine, Austin, October edition
Mike Lee's feature on Evil Dead, The Musical at KUT-FM (2 min.)
Click to view program for Evil Dead The Musical by Doctuh Mistah Productions