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Valentine stages ‘Evil Dead: The Musical’

News Editor

Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 03:10

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Photo courtesy of Matt Lentz

A one-handed Ash (Ryan Zarecki) hits a high note before decapitating a demon. “Evil Dead: The Musical” is infamous for its dark, gory humor and blood-drenched front row.

 

A group of college students heads to a secluded cabin in the woods, hoping to have a weekend of good-natured mischief but instead must fight a horde of blood-thirsty zombies.

The students’ response? To sing and dance, of course.

That’s the logic for “Evil Dead: The Musical,” an interactive and multi-sensory production opening this Friday at downtown Toledo’s Valentine Theatre Studio A.

The irreverent musical based off of the ’80s cult horror movie series has premiered in theaters across the nation for almost a decade, fueled by a score of catchy pop and rock tunes like “Do the Necronomicon” and "All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons."

Director James Norman said he was “out of [his] comfort zone” when the Valentine approached him in the spring of 2011 about attempting the zombie-filled show in Toledo. Now on his third run of the show, Norman couldn’t be more at home.

“Horror films aren’t really my thing,” Norman, a part-time English instructor at the University of Toledo, said. “But I like the musical because they’re a lot campier than the movies are. We don’t try to be Hollywood studios with our special effects. We shoot blood, and we don’t try to hide that.”

In fact, they shoot so much “blood” — a mixture of hand soap and food coloring — that the first three rows are designated as a “splash zone.” 

Because the splash zone is a staple in every Evil Dead production, music director Josh Glover said some fans are disappointed to learn the Valentine’s gore is non-staining. 

“We get people with white shirts a lot,” he said. “They want to keep it as a souvenir.” 

However, Norman said fans are rarely dissatisfied with the overall experience at the Valentine. The downtown theatre’s Studio A stage is mere feet from the front row, delivering a bigger impact to audiences.

“We usually have people fighting for those front seats,” Norman said. “It enhances the whole feel of the musical for the audience. You’re part of the action.” 

The actors are encouraged to actively “break the fourth wall” of reality by throwing blood, winking at and acknowledging audience members and, in one particular ballad, warning attendees about a key change.

“This show is the one chance you get to not take theater seriously,” Glover said. “The show’s almost a character of itself, really.”

With heaps of carnage, suggestive dialogue and expletive-filled lyrics, the production is meant for those 16 and older. However, that doesn’t seem to dampen attendance. Norman said over the past two years, the production has sold out 30 performances in a row.

Norman said attendees come from everywhere, including Cincinnati, Cleveland and even West Virginia. Many of the loyal movie fans show up in costume and shout out words from the film. 

“We get a lot of repeat customers,” Glover said. “It’s great to perform for such a dedicated audience. They really love this stuff, and they get as involved as much as they can.”

The attendees aren’t the only dedicated participants. With a majority of veteran production staff, as well as six out of eight returning cast members, Norman said this show was pulled together in six rehearsals. 

“Normally you rehearse five to six weeks for a production,” he said, “but I knew they could do this. You got to know your cast and what they’re able to do. They love it. I mean, they wouldn’t come back if they didn’t.”

“Everyone falls into their role very quickly,” Glover said. “It’s kind of like a family reunion. It’s a thing that draws a particular group of people together and we’re like, ‘Hey, let’s run the show.’”

Newcomer Katelyn Lesle, a UT junior majoring in individualized studies, said that family atmosphere and the cast’s level of experience made her feel very comfortable slipping into her role.

“I got to learn it all on my own and skipped straight to the fun part,” she said.

Lesle play’s Linda, a “typical good girl” and love interest of the lead character Ash, a nice boy who eventually slaughters hordes of zombies with a chainsaw for a hand.

“At first I wasn’t sure how closely I was supposed to play the character to the previous actress,” Lesle said. “But there’s freedom throughout the whole thing, definitely the most freedom I’ve ever had with a show.”

Lesle said the production style, which she describes as “rehearsed chaos,” is one of her favorite things about the musical.

“Most of the time when you’re performing, you have to pretend the audience is not there,” she said. “This is totally different. It’s like you’re saying, ‘Yeah, we know this is funny, and we want you to be a part of the joke.’”

Glover said it’s that connection that brings audiences back over and over, and he encourages attendees to pre-order tickets. This Friday’s premiere 7 p.m. show is already sold out.

“Get the tickets sooner rather than later,” Glover suggested. “It’s a blast, or more of a gush.”

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