Evil Dead: The Musical at Deer in the Spotlight Productions

TheatreBloom rating:

What the f**k was that?!? The theatre’s filled with zombies!

What the f**k was that?!? And there’s blood upon your shoe!

It can only be the cult classic Evil Dead: The Musical reincarnated for its third year, now appearing live with Deer in the Spotlight Productions! This year with TWO BLOODY LOCATIONS. Directed by Bob Denton & Bambi Johnson, with Musical Direction by Shane Jensen, and Choreography by Bambi Johnson, this camptastic chiller will leave you covered in blood and laughing until your guts erupt and add to the carnage.

Where does one even start when discussing what is becoming a rapid Halloween tradition to end all traditions? Perhaps with a quick warning. Don’t wear anything nice, (Deer in the Spotlight Productions does sell ponchos in the lobby, but why cheapen the experience?) and be prepared for gory FX on the Hollywood level that will scare you right out of your pants. Skip the corny Halloween mazes and fright-festivals, and spend your money with this production of Evil Dead: The Musical; you’ll scream, you’ll jump, you’ll die laughing. And also there’s blood. So much blood.

Director, Scenic Designer, and Properties Master FX God Bob Denton pulls out all the stops when it comes to crafting a seriously creepy set, which is actually a bit more like Peewee Herman’s Playhouse turned House of Horrors from Hell. Multiple viewings of the production are recommended you can catch all the fabulous nuances inside the cabin when the Kandarian Demons begin to act up and sentience seizes various furnishings and wall accoutrements. The cabin itself, derelict and decrepit, is a masterful work on its own, not to mention all of the impressive special-effects rigging Denton has done over its landscape to add hilarity and horrors to the overall viewing experience.

Denton’s special effects and props defy description on multiple levels. Not only would mere words not do them justice— one simply doesn’t expect that caliber of special effects in local theatre, let alone what the effects do to the audience once they get going— and such words might spoil all the nifty and gory surprises that Denton and the company have in store for audiences. Needless to say there’s by which to be astonished; everything from the ‘Easter Egg’ deer photo hung on the far wall of the cabin to Ash’s hand once it…escapes…and the blood-spurting— to be honest, what doesn’t spurt blood in this production? Denton, who wears more hats than a hat-rack, also serves as the show’s lighting designer, which enables him to fully encapsulate his visceral vision for the show, extracting it from his brain and presenting it live for the audience. Denton’s lighting is not only clever, it’s intuitive, creating layers of illumination and shadow that enhance the mood. Whether it’s augmenting the campiness of a scene or really bringing the blood washes to thrilling heights, Denton’s lighting plot has it all.

Ellen Manuel (left) as Kandarian Demon with Michael Bliss (center) as Ash, and Rance Denton (right) as MC Kandarian Demon in Evil Dead: The Musical
Ellen Manuel (left) as Kandarian Demon with Michael Bliss (center) as Ash, and Rance Denton (right) as MC Kandarian Demon in Evil Dead: The Musical Matthew Peterson

Seeing double is not a side effect of being killed by a Kandarian Demon, however it’s proving to be a required skill for Costume Designer Lithia Knopp. Once zombiefied, perfectly ordinary costumes, like Shelly’s saucy red dress, mutate into shredded rips and often appear drenched and splattered with blood and guts. Knopp even makes tatty break-away costumes for added cheese effect (mad props to Sydney Phipps’ flawless twirl out of her tragically tattered skirt) that really boost the camp and overall schmaltz of various instances throughout the performance. Knopp even gives the Shemps fabulous elven-curl tree feet to accompany their upright tree-costume and it all fits delightfully into the mayhem that is Evil Dead: The Musical.  

Choreographer Bambi Johnson is a regular Dr. Frankenstein the way she brings those Deadites back to life with her electrifying dance moves in “Do The Necronomicon.” We all love to know how much the undead love to get their freak on, but nobody knows that more than Johnson and she demonstrates it well with zombie-twitch shuffles, shakes, and steps, all of which result in one hell of an entertaining dance scene for this big number late in the second act. Johnson’s choreography is sampled throughout the production, along with all of the rigorous and insanely realistic fight choreography that gives the production that edgy liveliness that all horror-thriller experiences ought to have.

Steve Flickinger (left) as Jake, Sydney Phipps (center) as Annie, and Michael Bliss (right) as Ash in Evil Dead: The Musical
Steve Flickinger (left) as Jake, Sydney Phipps (center) as Annie, and Michael Bliss (right) as Ash in Evil Dead: The Musical Matthew Peterson

In addition to all of the special effects, insane dancing, and spooktacular nonsense that happens in this production, the cast is chock full of musical and acting talent. Directors Bob Denton & Bambi Johnson and Musical Director Shane Jensen (who makes a fantabulous pop-up cameo during “All of the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Kandarian Demons”) work in tandem to create strong, emotive sounds that ultimately and exponentially heighten the experience. It’s one thing to perform a show full of camp and cheese and shenanigans, but an even better thing to do so with talented singers who are able to belt their faces off, correctly harmonize, and present deep, serious emotions throughout all of the excitement. The fact that the performers, under the surefire guidance of Denton, Johnson, and Jensen, create real moments of authenticity, drives the hilarity of the campy moments to critical peak. And as if all that weren’t enough, there’s an immersive element to the show. Denton, Jensen, Johnson, and really the entire cast and creative team want to make sure you leave soaked in the experience of Evil Dead: The Musical. (Well, really, they just want you to leave soaked. In blood.)

Shemp (Lanoree Blake-#1 and Michael Maistros-#2) are as spooky and as important as Moose (three-time returning EDtM-vet Matthew Wolffe) because they’re some of the creepiest and most hilarious pieces of the show. Wolffe, whose affected voice for moose will give you the willies for a week, is also seen running around later in the production— some might say like a chicken with its head chopped off. These three performers are integral to the success of the production as it’s…all hands on deck, at times. Blake even doubles up during the intermission (which is completely and freakishly interactive) as…well…I don’t even know what. You’ll have to see for yourself to find out.

Steve Flickinger as Jake in Evil Dead: The MusicalSteve Flickinger as Jake in Evil Dead: The Musical
Steve Flickinger as Jake in Evil Dead: The Musical Matthew Peterson

Good googity moogity! What in tarnation crawled up Steve Flickinger’s butt and transformed him into a tantrum-throwin’, foul-mouthed, living version of Yosemite Sam? Good Ol’ Reliable Jake, that’s what! Flickinger is new to the role of Jake but lives it up like he’s a proper backwoods hell-billy who just can’t get enough scene-stealing moments. The twang, the patois, the squeaky squeals when his temper flares, Flickinger masters it all. But the real crowning glory for this Jake is his big ol’ number, “Good Old Reliable Jake.” Blasting right in poor Ed’s (Jordan Baumiller) face and rocking out hardcore, Flickinger goes to town with the number and really splashes it out every chance he gets.

Jordan Baumiller, the aforementioned Ed, is the mostly silent character who is constantly being overrun by the chatty Annie. But when Baumiller’s character finally gets two words in edgewise, it is totally worth the wait. With this welcoming and unexpectedly sweet sound, Baumiller takes to singing the character’s one and only moment in the spotlight, “Bit Part Demon.” Starting it off all somber and subdued, it only takes a moment for Baumiller to break out into a full song and dance, with a great sound and an end that will have you drenched with laughing.

Adorkable Linda (Holly Blondheim) is the typical college girlfriend, sweet but not quite that sweet. Blondheim brings a beautiful sound with surprising sincerity to her duet with Ash, “Housewares Employee.” The fact that Blondheim takes such an intense straight-edge to this number really brings out its none-too-subtle comic nuance. When appearing in “Look Who’s Evil Now” there’s a real game-changing attitude shift that Blondheim situates at the forefront of her portrayal. Watch all of her facial responses to the vacant Shelly, especially when they start playing ‘guess the word.’ Blondheim is an excellent addition to the cast, her voice providing great strength in the group numbers.

Ellen Manuel as Cheryl in Evil Dead: The Musical
Ellen Manuel as Cheryl in Evil Dead: The Musical Matthew Peterson

Splitting a character right down the middle is never easy at the best of times, but what happens when your innocent swotty sister of bookish proportions becomes possessed by a Kandarian demon? In comes Ellen Manuel in the role of Cheryl to show you what happens. Manuel, also a newcomer to the Evil Dead: The Musical experience, really finds that dividing line and cracks the character clean down the middle. Nervous, easily startled, woebegone, and quite easily spooked, her Cheryl in the early scenes is perfectly camp and really reads clean for the type of girl she is. Manuel masterfully manipulates the innocent Cheryl into the punster from hell once Kandarian Demonized. Raunchy, rude, and ripe with comic timing, Manuel really fits the bill for ‘most annoying little sister’ once that shift takes place.

Michael Bliss (left) as Ash, Sydney Phipps (center) as Annie, and Steve Flickinger (right) as Jake
Michael Bliss (left) as Ash, Sydney Phipps (center) as Annie, and Steve Flickinger (right) as Jake Matthew Peterson

Splitting a character is one thing. Splitting an actor is quite another. Splitting Sydney Phipps in two* is exactly what Denton & Johnson do when they cast her as both bubbleheaded bimbo Shelly and brilliantly brainy Annie. Phipps, doing double duty with costume changes and then some, comes out with flying colors, albeit mostly red, and really does both gals great justice. The distinctive split between the two is astonishing. Phipps’ vacuous, vapid Shelly is uproarious and gives you ever excuse in the book to laugh out loud. Phipps’ Annie is resilient; she plays the character with a severe edge that ultimately elevates those campier moments. When Phipps takes to singing “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Kandarian Demons” she produces a belt that could clearly blast all of said demons straight back to hell.

3-time returning veteran Rance Denton (right) as MC Kandarian Demon in Evil Dead: The Musical
3-time returning veteran Rance Denton (right) as MC Kandarian Demon in Evil Dead: The Musical Matthew Peterson

Scott (Rance Denton) and Ash (Michael Bliss) the two broski besties on a deliberately unintentional highway to hell, what could possibly go wrong? Denton and Bliss return for their third year in a row, tried and true veterans of EDtM and don’t hold back in the least. One of the most diabolically hilarious moments in the show is their simultaneously nonsensical delivery of “What the F**k Was That?” This tempting tango (which features even more of Bambi Johnson’s brilliant choreography) is chock full of hysterics, with Denton and Bliss playing beautifully off one another to really ramp up the number.

Denton, who gets the unique privilege of wearing the creepier-than-can-be-described Master of Ceremonies costume once Kandarian Demonized, takes point to lead “Do the Necronomicon” and stamps it out in style. His raunchy, filthy, crude approach to Scott, brings just the level of lowbrow nonsense one would hope for when experiencing a cult classic. Full of pluck, spunk, and panache, this larger-than-life grosser than all get-out gorgon of crudities is well-handled in Denton’s hands.  Watch out for his…forward advances…as he’s liable to spurt out any old thing when the mood strikes him.

3-time returning veteran Michael Bliss as Ash in Evil Dead: The Musical
3-time returning veteran Michael Bliss as Ash in Evil Dead: The Musical Matthew Peterson

He may not be a killer, except that he totally is, and he definitely blew that bitch away, Mr. Ash of S-Mart, also known as the incomparable Michael Bliss. Third times a world-saving hero, Bliss returns to reprise his role with just as much guts and glory as the first two times round on the gruesome carousel of death and Deadites. With indescribably animated facial expressions that add that much needed layer of hysterics to his character, Bliss really knows how and when to play up the camp and when to put on the straight laces and slay some demon ass. With an exemplary voice that rivals the cries of the netherworld, Bliss is blast on stage and really bleeds his heart and soul into this performance of Ash.

It’s time to do the Necronomicon before all the men (and everyone else) in your lives get turned into Kandarian Demons. Won’t you…joooooiiiiin them? JOOOOOIIIIIIN THEM!!! There are multiple chances and two different venues for you to JOOOOOIIIIIIN THEM— Deer in the Spotlight Productions— and their rambunctious and totally worth-it production of Evil Dead: The Musical this Halloween season.

Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission

Evil Dead: The Musical plays through October 21, 2018 with Deer in the Spotlight Productions at Street Lamp Productions— in Valley View Drive in Rising Sun, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance online. ADVANCE RESERVATIONS STRONGLY RECOMMENDED.

Miss Evil Dead: The Musical in Rising Sun? Or just can’t get enough it? You’re in luck! You don’t have to wait until next Halloween!

Evil Dead: The Musical will play a two-weekend engagement October 19 & 20 and 26 & 27 at The Motor House— 120 W. North Avenue on the edge of the Station North Arts District of Baltimore, MD. Tickets are available at the door and in advance online. ADVANCE RESERVATIONS ARE STRONGLY RECOMMENDED.

* no actor were intentionally harmed during the process of this production

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