I’ve been a Deadite since I was 13 years old and saw the Bruce Campbell/Sam Raimi splatter fest comedy Army of Darkness for the very first time. At such a tender age I found myself going down a road littered in fake Shemps, Kandarian demons, and oceans of syrupy fake blood. I learned that I loved low-budget, schlocky horror movies and how to appreciate them not only for their sometimes unintentional humor but for the spirit of the story being told. So imagine my surprise –and, yes, mild horror at first- in 2003 when I first heard about the production of Evil Dead: The Musical. Now, as a fan of musicals, The Evil Dead, and demonic possession, I was curious but it would take me eight years before I was finally able to get my hands on a bootleg, early performance from late 2003. The quality was low, the sound garbled, but it was hands down the most entertaining musical I’d seen in years. It was an intentionally campy, satirical retrospective of the original Evil Dead trilogy. That’s Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, Army of Darkness for those of you who think the 2013 remake counts as part of the trilogy. While enjoyable, it does not. Anyway, back to the play. It begins with musical numbers of the original five –Ash, Scotty, Cheryl, Linda, and Shelly- going to a cabin in the woods to celebrate spring break. For all you Evil Dead virgins reading this, let me give you a brief synopsis of the series. The troop uncovers an ancient tome wrapped in human flesh and inked in human blood, the Necronomicon, and play a tape recorded translation located nearby of its demon resurrection passages. One by one the campers are brutalized and possessed until only Ash remains only to be further set upon by the translator’s daughter Annie, her inept doormat of a boyfriend Ed, and good old reliable redneck stereotype Jake who all get to experience the same possession and slaughter that Ash has already survived once before. Now, set it to some catchy, Broadway-style musical numbers including a tango entitled What the Fuck Was That?! and you’ve got yourself one hell of a show. In October of 2014, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville put on a production of Evil Dead: The Musical in a move that completely shocked me. Nashville is known for music and its appreciation of music. What it’s not known for is its acceptance of the horror genre. With complaints every year about the fact that residents still allow their children to celebrate Halloween here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, outside of haunted houses and ghost tours through the historical City Cemetery in October, we don’t normally get too many horror specific events to come through town and then usually only at convention centers seasonally. Anyway, the TPAC performance took place in the Andrew Jackson Hall. The sets were amazing, the acting was spot on, and the musical was a bloody romp through the dark bowers of man’s domain. It was great and, for my first time seeing it in person it was everything I had hoped for. The physical comedy and special effects were flawless and left audience members in the front two rows almost as blood covered as the actors themselves. That said, if I had to find a complaint it would be the sense of detachment that comes from being at such a large production. The auditorium was packed with hundreds of people in stadium seats balconies and left no doubt that the play was being done by professionals on a big budget. While that’s what a lot of people are looking for when they head out to the theater, on something born from the campy, low-budget heart of Evil Dead it can leave some fans longing for something simpler. Either way, I swore that if it ever came back to middle Tennessee, I was going to be there to see it again. In the spring of 2016, a friend sent me a link to a Facebook page, a casting call for local actors wanting to join a production at Murfreesboro’s Little Theater of Evil Dead: The Musical. My first response, after the giddy clapping and excitement, was to find out where and when they were holding auditions. I then, unfortunately, realized that I am a writer for a reason, hearing my own voice as I sang What the Fuck Was That?! in the shower. As the October dates for the production appeared in my newsfeed I became increasingly excited. Finally, the night arrived. Murfreesboro’s Little Theater, an old log cabin that once sat off in the woods of Murfreesboro was the perfect location for a production that the director promised would be the “bloodiest anyone had ever seen.” It also marked the first production done by the theater troop Radical Arts. It’s an ambitious undertaking for any group big or small. In this case, it was a literal labor of love, a fact that was evident as soon as you walked through the door. The entrance and restrooms were covered floor to ceiling in plastic tarps, a sign that would normally result in me backing out of a room cautiously. This was, of course, to protect the historical building from the gallons of fake blood that would shortly be saturating cast and audience alike. The performance space is intimate, small, holding about fifty or sixty people and, in the case of those sitting on the front row, sharing a space with the performers. I’ve been fortunate to have seen several shows in my life and in an age of mass-produced Hollywood blockbusters and low-budget, on demand knock-offs, there’s a lack of appreciation for the hard work and imagination that goes into putting on a stage production. That said, there is still a level of detachment between the audience and the players that reminds you that it’s all make believe when you watch a show somewhere like Broadway (or Nashville’s equivalent TPAC). That was simply not the case at MLT and Radical Arts. The low budget and smaller venue brought a genuine sense of honesty to the campy splatterfest musical and lived up to the soul -pun intended- of The Evil Dead and its cultural legacy. Being basically on stage with the actors brings the audience into that small, rundown cabin in the woods, makes you feel like a real part of what’s happening in front of you. So much so that members of the audience, regardless of where they sat, ended up saturated in blood, organs, and at one point a bit part demon blown away during his big musical number. The costuming, sets, and props were all incredibly detailed down to the book of the dead itself which could have easily been a prop from the original film productions of Evil Dead. The director, Mike Dobrzelecki, is a filmmaker by trade and a fellow Deadite who brought his passion for his craft and his love of the story to the production. Combine that with an assembled cast both musically talented and passionate about this play and you’ve got easily one of the best performances ever of Evil Dead: The Musical. Excellent direction, acting, and a hell of a lot of heart (and other organs) bringing to life a fantastically written piece. In fact, music aside, it’s the portrayal of these amazing characters that brings this play to life. Ash may be the hero in every production but the true star of Evil Dead: The Musical is and always has been the pun-spewing, undead nuisance of Cheryl. From a bookish prude to an ultra-violent comedian spitting out dad jokes and taunting the protagonists as one by one they join the hosts of hell. From her shouting “Leaf me alone!” as the trees accost her to reminding us that “Scott’s is the softest tissue.” Cheryl is the true star in every production I’ve ever seen. Radical Arts performance was no different with a Cheryl (played by Emily Dennis in this production) who put the laughter in slaughter again and again. The entire cast was phenomenal including Linda (Savannah Gannon) who belted it out of the park in Do the Necronomicon and Look Who’s Evil Now. I can’t say enough complimentary things about the entire cast and crew of RA’s production. The physical humor was so much more than you would hope for, especially during the song Join Us when Cheryl and a particularly lippy Kandarian demon moose try to convince Ash (Ryan Dillinger) that he’s going mad and should join the army of the damned before taking control of his hand and turning it against him. The only person more physically abused than Ash would probably be Jake (Luke Gannon) gushing blood from the dagger sticking out of his chest. Broken plates, severed limbs, punches to the jaw and so many pratfalls would make Sam Raimi proud. If you’re in the Middle Tennessee area before Halloween and want to watch a great run of this amazing show, get you some tickets through radicalarts.org or the MLT’s site. Even if you can’t see this production, other small troops and large companies are doing this show across the country. If you can get the chance you need to go and see it. My advice, do a double feature of Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness to get in the mood, then grab a rain slicker and get ready for the night of your life. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Pingback: Evil Dead: The Musical | Danno of the Dead Blog() John E. Meredith With a song called ‘What the Fuck Was That’, they already got me. Man, if only this would come to Michigan!