Just in time for Halloween, a musical at Corn Stock Theatre parodies the standard tropes of horror movies, with its production of “Evil Dead: The Musical.” Marty Lynch has this review for Peoria Public Radio and the Live Theatre League of Peoria. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer, not those of Peoria Public Radio or the Live Theatre League.
There has been a trend lately of movies being turned into musicals and plenty of critics have cried foul. Their problem is that they think old ideas are being recycled. I love it, at least in this case, because an entirely new experience has been created from a cult classic. Director Ingrid Peelle has brought a bloody, fun production of Evil Dead: the Musical to Corn Stock’s Winter Playhouse
There was a sold out crowd on Friday night. Most seats are considered safe, but there is a spot called the Splatter Zone. I and a few others were therefore more casually dressed then the rest, though the theatre provides ponchos to anyone that didn’t get the memo: this show has lots of blood and you will get wet in the Splatter Zone.
If you don’t know the film, you’ll be fine. Evil Dead is a classic riff on the old horror trope: a gang of teenagers sneak off into a cabin in the woods and carnage ensues. Since then, musical theatre and the art of parody have exploded. Evil Dead: the Musical is more camp than horror now, and there are plenty of jokes for the uninitiated as well as the lifelong fan. This musical certainly maintains its R rating for language and ludicrous violence, but not for frightening anyone.
Cree Sullivan guides us as Ash, the leader of the teenagers and hero of the show. He has created a character that is homage to the Bruce Campbell original, and customized for this exact production. He is surrounded by his four teenage friends, played by Jarod Hazzard, Shannon Orrill, Jessica King, and Andrea Walker. Everyone gets a song (or two) to shine onstage, but the titles of their songs are not fit to print. Alex Larson and Joel Schumacher each get roles in the ensemble as well as their own songs. Larson’s rendition of “Good Ol’ Reliable Jake” was a treat, but Schumaker’s “Bit Part Demon” has me wondering when he’ll get a chance to perform “Mr. Cellophane” for Peoria. The cast is rounded out by the menacing forest played by the versatile Nathan Apodaca, Andrew Schoepke, and Jay Williams.
The choice to make this show a campy take on the all-too-familiar tropes of horror film makes it impossible to say whether or not the acting was good. Instead, it was right on. Sullivan nailed his performance as Ash, and had a rock solid cast to support the absurdity. Newcomer Jessica King plays a pair of opposite roles and shines in each. Orrill hits all the right marks in her role, especially when she is interacting with Hazzard as he plays the arrogant bully. Walker splits her time between ingénue and monster masterfully. They have a tightrope to walk when they speak, but the farce never fades to spite.
The band, particularly guitarist Jimmy LaHood, is incredibly good; I thought they were singing along to tracks until intermission. I enjoyed the set immensely even though the energy dropped when set changes took place. Credit goes to choreographer Erica Franken and Fight Director Alex Larson for taking a show that feels written for a proscenium and placing it in the round.
The performance runs about two hours but feels much shorter than that. It’s good fun and a great choice for October leading up to Halloween. Make no mistake, this musical is not for children and may not be for many adults, but for Friday night at least, it was for everyone in the house. As a fitting finale to the show, you get to leave, clean yourself off, and meet the cast. Just as you convince yourself the Book of the Dead isn’t real and that what happens onstage isn’t reality, you step outside and realize something horrible. Corn Stock’s Winter Playhouse is a Cabin in the Woods.
Evil Dead: The Musical continues at Corn Stock Theatre, Friday through Sunday. More information is available at 309-676-2916, or cornstocktheatre.com