"What happens next?" is a fundamental element of the theater. It's a question that, if planted properly in the heads of audience members, keeps them enthusiastically coming back after intermission.
But in "Evil Dead: the Musical," the intermission question isn't so much, "What happens next?" as it is, "What body part will be cut off next?" And, "How much of the spattering blood will reach me here in the third row?"
I'm no fan of spoilers, so I won't answer the body parts question. But I will say that, despite the vast quantities of blood on stage, not much of it reaches the audience in Theatre on the Square's regional premiere of the show. Those who have heard about Gallagherconcert-like productions elsewhere-where ponchos and "I Survived the Splatter Zone" T-shirts were common-may be disappointed.
That safe distance may be good for your garments, but it's not helpful to the production. Without that feeling of being close to the action, "Evil Dead" is a hitand-miss affair. Some songs, including the opening "Cabin in the Woods" and the doo-wop "All of the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons" are fun, but elsewhere, book and lyric writer George Reinblatt forgets that the pleasure in such silliness is that the characters on stage believe what's happening. Throwing in the self-referential "Bit-Part Demon" in Act II, to note one example, feels like filler here. Despite a game performance by the hang-dog Luke McConnell, it takes us out of the urgency of the admittedly ridiculous plot.
On the other hand, Shane Chuvalas as Ash, the terrorized and terrified leading man, convinces that Candarian demons can really ruin a Spring Break. Rebecca DeVries' smooth transition from outcast sister to chained-in-the-basement, badjoke-spouting demon is annoyingly amusing-and scary. And as Ash's horndog buddy, Evan Wesselmann has foulmouthed fun. (He and other cast members have improv comedy chops-and could probably have come up with better lines than Reinblatt often does.)
Theatre on the Square presents "Evil Dead: The Musical" through Nov. 15. For more information, visit www.tots.orgor call 685-8678.
James Trofatter's set design and David Schlatter's special effects go a long way toward keeping the audience engaged. "Evil Dead: The Musical" may not be art-or have the sick kick of the film-but it's certainly more fun than your average Halloween party. For that, TOTS deserves a hand-although it already has a menacing, disconnected one crawling around somewhere.