(Editor’s note: Due to scheduling conflicts at oSP, we are presenting our review of PMT’s 2022 Evil Dead production. The lead cast members and creative team remain the essentially same this year, with Emily Palmer in the role of Linda. )
2022 Review by JESSICA NEU
As October falls upon us, Pittsburghers typically seek their favorite haunted houses, Halloween costumes, and of course, everything pumpkin-flavored. However, Pittsburgh Musical Theater (PMT) offers another way to revel in all things Fall, gore, horror, and fun this Halloween season. Evil Dead the Musical runs through October 22nd. The show plays at the West End Canopy, which is adorned with several space heaters. Still, it leaves audience members exposed to the outdoor elements. As long as you dress accordingly, the brisk autumn breeze that comes through the canopy adds a chill to the air, creating the perfect ambiance for this horror comedy, taking place at a remote cabin in the woods. Audience members will enjoy themed music as they wait for curtain (I especially enjoyed “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads). Those who sit in the first several rows will be immersed in the proverbial “splash zone,” where they are sure to be sprayed with blood and beer. But are also guaranteed the best view of the hilarity that unfolds in the cabin. Ponchos are optional for the splash zone, but I would recommend them.
Once the show begins, audiences are treated to a tour de force of talent. Actors attack the stage to deliver performances that combine horror and suspense with sketch comedy and catchy, humorous songs that are vocally challenging, highlighting the vocalists’ raw talent. The hilarious opening scene establishes the plot of Evil Dead. Then this cult classic takes audiences on a journey with five college students who venture to a deserted cabin in the woods for a unique spring break. “What could go wrong,” they ask as they gleefully drive to the cabin. Together, we follow Ash (Brett Goodnack), Linda (Emily Palmer), Scott (Brecken Newton Farrell), Shelly (Callee Miles), and Cheryl (Laura Barletta) to the deserted cabin in the woods. Still, the location is secondary to the dynamic and quirky personalities each character brings to the doomed trip. Ash and Linda sparked a romance working at the local S Mart, which quickly blossomed beyond aisle three. Cheryl is Ash’s sister, who, although never discussed it outright, presents as though she struggles with some mental health concerns. While Linda approaches Cheryl with kindness, Scott dismisses her as a “crazy b****,” an action that will come back to haunt him later in the show.
As the characters slowly discover that the cabin and surrounding woods are haunted, each of the five primary actors shines in portraying a character that is hilariously possessed while also questioning their character’s mortality and values. Mile and Farell’s character acting will have you laughing out loud. Meanwhile, Barletta and Oliverio deliver vocal performances that blow the roof off the canopy stronger than the outside wind. Goodnack delivers a triple threat performance as the throughline of the plot. His comedic timing and physical acting are reminiscent of Jim Carey’s early work in Ace Ventura and The Mask. Other characters are introduced along the way to solve the show’s ultimate mystery or as a means of suspense. The group’s cohesiveness makes for a hilarious and unforgettable trip into not just the woods but also our psyche.
Director Nick Mitchell‘s guidance over the show is evident because the choreography by Alex Manalo, Music Direction by Dr. Francesca Tortorello, and the set design, blocking, and acting all fit together like a perfect puzzle. If one element of Evil Dead does not match the other, the show has the potential to be unnecessarily gruesome and cruel or take a dramatic tone that could undercut the intended comedic B-level horror motif the show aims to achieve. Mitchell’s production triumphs in synchronizing the kitschy with the intense and the quirky with suspense.
“Evil Dead at PMT started out as a bit of an experiment, expanding programming with respect to both content and “Late Night” curtains. What we learned was that audiences wanted more of their favorite deadites! Over the last five years, Evil Dead The Musical at PMT has evolved from an experiment into a tradition. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by the kind of talent on stage and on the production team who loves this crazy, campy piece and strives to find every new laugh, squeeze out a little more blood, and continue to create the world of Ash and those pesky Candarian Demons!” says director Nick Mitchell.
Evil Dead the Musical is more than just a comedic horror musical. It is a timely seasonal event that will put you in the Halloween spirit while delivering plenty of raunchy humor that will have you laughing while looking over your shoulder as you depart the West End Canopy.
TICKETS AND DETAILS
The 2023 cast includes Brett Goodnack (Ash), Laura Barletta (Cheryl), Callee Miles (Shelly/Annie), Brecken Newton Farrell (Scott), Emily Palmer (Linda), J. Alex Noble (Jake), Daniel Lawrence (Ed), Damon Oliver Jr. (Knowby). The ensemble features Gavin Carnahan, Julia Kreutzer, and Hannah Taylor. The 2023 production is led by Nick Mitchell (Director), Alex Manalo (Choreographer), and Dr. Francesca Tortorello (Music Director).
More info at tickets at https://pittsburghmusicals.com/evildead/