Oct. 20 2010 12:00 AM

Despite audio gremlins, MSU’s ’Evil Dead’ serves as a fun tribute to Raimi


It’s campier than “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” with a higher body count than “Little Shop of Horrors.” “Evil Dead: The Musical” is based on the trilogy of cult films ("Evil Dead," "Evil Dead 2" and "Army of Darkness"), which were directed by Michigan State University alum Sam Raimi. The musical is a meta experience, referencing not only the source material but also poking fun at the absurdity of conventional horror film elements.

The plot centers on a group of college students spring-breaking in a small cabin in the remote woods. The property belongs to a researcher, who had been studying an ancient Book of the Dead. The good doctor has disappeared, but he left behind a tape recorder with his notes on the book.

When the students play the tape, they release demons, which then possess and/or kill most of them. Hero Ash (Andrew Faber) survives and battles the demons with the help of the doctor’s daughter, Annie (Kelly Studnicki), who has come to the cabin in search of her father.

As a longtime fan of the source material, I would have fed my fellow reviewers to Candarian demons to get this juicy assignment. Having endured previous mediocre adaptations of movies into musicals (“Legally Blonde,” “The Color Purple”), I was sure that even if it was bad, it would be good. Apparently my fan-girl expectations were a set a bit too high.

While the characters of “Evil Dead: The Musical” were plagued by demons, the production itself was plagued by sound problems on opening night. While the spoken dialogue was fine, the lyrics of most of the songs were unintelligible. The volume of the singers often fought with the volume of the accompaniment, and some vocals were muddy. This was a major disappointment, because the lyrics that could be deciphered were quite funny.

Faber lacks the physicality of Bruce Campbell, who played Ash in the movies, but one has to admire any stage actor who is willing to take on such an iconic role.

While the entire cast shows a nice grasp of comedic timing, two performers in particular stand out. First is Ross Egan as Scott, Ash’s best friend. Egan mines the depths of Scott’s crass and selfish behavior, strutting around like a peacock and frequently spewing out epithets like “dumb bitch” in such a way that it really does get funnier every time he says it.

Nicholas Dressel plays Jake, a lumbering oaf hired by Annie to guide her and bit-part boyfriend Ed (Tyler Vancamp) to the cabin. Dressel delivers one of the more intelligible vocal performances with his autobiographical song, “Good Old Reliable Jake.”

Aside from the sound issues, there are some strong production elements. Kudos to scene designer Zac Campbell, whose set pieces make transitions between the cabin and the woods quick and smooth. Lighting designer Ryan Davies and projection designer Genesis Garza effectively create a spooky atmosphere with their work.

Director Rob Roznowski has done a fine job with the staging of “Dead,” playing up the camp values to compensate for limited resources necessary to create slick special effects. Considering the copious amount of hacking, slashing and shooting, there is far less blood than promised and expected, though; this is one element that could have added more to the over-the-top production.

Still, the play will easily satisfy fans of the movie trilogy, as all of the requisite catchphrases are worked into the script. Groovy.

’Evil Dead: The Musical’

p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20 and Thursday, Oct. 21; 8 p.m. and 11:55 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 22; 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23; 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24
Michigan State University Theatre Pasant Theatre, Wharton Center $20
adults; $15 students (800) WHARTON