REVIEW: Limestone College’s ‘Evil Dead’ Opens the Halloween Theatre Season

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Zach Potter and Luke Holt in “Evil Dead.”

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

You know the story. A group of horny teenagers loaded down with hot dogs, liquor and condoms spend their spring break in a haunted cabin in the woods and die horrible, violent, gory and bloody deaths – one by one!
Limestone College Theatre knows this formula by heart (and intestines) in its lively season opener “Evil Dead: The Musical,” a fervent parody of archetypes and an impressive display of guts and fear effects.

Faithfully adapted from the Sam Raimi’s film franchise, this production is like a barrel full of bloody hands, all clapping, and laughs replete with a special splatter zone seating section. The epitome of horror camp, “Evil Dead” is the anti-zombie story: a bustling hilarious satire of the genre and its conventions. And who doesn’t like a singing moose, ancient daggers, killer trees, demons and blood? Pints and pints of blood. Well, mostly water, but it’s convincing.

“Evil Dead” reunites much of the company from “Company” with an incisive portrayal, pointed by measured amounts of William Shatner melodrama, Zach Potter is back as leading man and head-squatter of the pack, Ash, who, in “Cabin in the Woods.” declares he just wants to have some fun with his friends and snuggle with his S-Mart co-worker and sweetheart Linda, played with zeal by a willing Kinsey Gregg.

Then, someone just had to read some lines from the four-foot Book of the Dead that just happens to be lying around the deserted cabin, and awaken the Undead.

Luke Holt plays the requisite testosterone-bursting jock and misogynist Scott who admits his date Shelly (Grace Wylie in full tramp-mode and skin-tight hot pants, is a slut. Shelly would be the stock dumb blonde in horror movies who is usually topless by page 9. But I digress. And Scott is the guy that audiences don’t mind sacrificing to the zombies because he is such an overtly juvenile jerk with his hormone-infused sexual obsession (he thoroughly enjoys dryhumping Shelly) and continuously calls the women bitches and assholes.

Jade Alford elucidates the role of Cheryl, Ash’s third-wheel sister. First nerdy and homely, Alford manages to shine even fortified for more than half of the show under the trap cellar door, as her Demonic interjections from the floor provide a bounty of one-liners throughout the adventure.

With a Book & Lyrics by George Reinblatt and music by Reinblatt, Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris and Christopher Bond, the Off-Broadway hit “Evil Dead” is silly, sometimes clever, and always campy. The score is forgettable, cookie cutter old-school rock with elements of doo-wop. But it’s the lyrics that jolt the proceedings to life with song titles like “Blew That Bitch Away,” mind you the bitch in question is a zombie.

What was memorable is “What the Fuck Was That? (Your Sister has Turned into a Zombie)” set to Potter and Holt’s macho treatment of a tango. And Alford and Wylie “transitioning” in “Look Who’s Evil Now” is a jaunty duet, though at the student preview Wednesday these gals needed a boost in their microphone levels, especially once they became zombies and put on the prosthetic masks.

There are several bit parts that must be commended as well: a spunky Jamaas Britton as the fame-challenged “Bit-Part Demon”; J.R Bloomer’s country-fried interpretation of Jake, the local redneck and haunted trail guide in his own hilarious and well-executed solo “Good Old Reliable Jake”; and Christian Shupe, who nails with a burly mustache and pipe Professor Knowby, and a killer tree, and the most conspicuous and peculiar character in this zany epic – an Egyptian airline flight attendant in ballet shoes.

“Evil Dead” pay homage to its predecessors such as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and tries very hard to be “The Rocky Horror Show” – it even has its own “Time Warp”-style number and dance “Do the Necronomicon” demonstrated by phantoms (demons) in sequined vests – but the music just isn’t there. Nor is the transvestite.

Directed by Dr. Tim Baxter-Ferguson, with choreography by Jacqua Carr and fight choreography by Rob Kahn, “Evil Dead” is an overall frothy and satisfying Halloween experience. Not quite a haunted house, but exhilarating none the less.

Ben Chumley returns as music director as well as some longtime Limestone musical collaborators Kevin Heuer at the drum kit and Shawn Allen on bass.

And kudos to the production artists with Make-up (with Autumn Krueger), Hair and Prosthetic Masks by James Holmes, the Mounted Moose puppet by Drew Nolan and the really cool prop the Book of the Dead (cover by Katherine Rausch), and costumes by Gregg and Jessie Cantrell.

Stage Manager is Dylan Seidling and Angel Gomez is Assistant Stage Manager.

“Evil Dead” also comes to life with a crisp, precise sound design (chain saws and gunshots galore) by Chuck Carr, spooky lighting by Vandy Scoates and a sumptuous rustic cabin set also designed by Dr. Tim Baxter-Ferguson, which utilizes the entire potential of the space, with much of his bloody-shower effects and engineering occurring somewhat upstage. And behold, his underground maze allows for some bountiful surprises and effects too.

The splatter zone does offer a few extra squirts from the cast. But don’t worry it’s only water and not even blood-colored.

“Evil Dead: The Musical:” continues at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 7 at Limestone Center Theatre, 130 Leadmine St. in Gaffney. Tickets: limestone-college.ticketleap.com.

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