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Theatre Review: Stray Dog Theatre's "Evil Dead The Musical" A Silly, Rocking Halloween Diversion

Jeff Hirsch
St. Louis Public Radio Theatre Reviewer Donna Parrone

Halloween has been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember. Ghosts, witches, vampires, and, with ever more frequency, zombies, inhabit the world of what scares us and entertains us. The sheer number of zombie movies, TV shows, books and video games seems overwhelming to me. I just don’t get the fascination. But it’s there and has even crossed over to the stage. Stray Dog Theatre remounts Evil Dead, a zombie musical, created in Canada and most lovingly imported to the USA.
Yes, that’s right, a zombie musical. Take one part zombie film, one part Scary Movie and one part Justin Been magic and you have Evil Dead, the Musical. If you haven’t been down to Tower Grove Abbey to see one of director Been’s musicals, then RUN and get your tickets. When I was there opening night, the first weekend was already sold out. I imagine the Halloween weekend is going fast too. Oh, and you can upgrade your tickets to the “splatter zone” which is exactly like what it sounds. Two rows of lucky folk get up close and personal with the cast and can even take home unique souvenir t-shirts spattered with “zombie goodies” like entrails and brains.

Credit (Courtesy of John Lamb)
(l to r) Anna Skidis, Eileen Engel, Paul Cereghino, Angela Bubash, C.E. Fifer in Stray Dog Theatre's “Evil Dead: The Musical”.

So here’s the plot, five college friends spend the weekend in an old cabin in which they have no right to be. They read aloud from the Book of the Dead (which just happens to be lying about,) unleashing a powerful, evil force that, one by one, makes them zombies. OK, now add some high production values, rocking songs and silly lines by writers George Reinblatt, Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris and Christopher Bond, special effects, great vocal and music direction by Chris Petersen and his three man band (they sound MUCH bigger than three!) and that magic talent director Justin Been has to bring all his actors to the same level, and you have an evening of silly, silly, rockin’ good fun!

The ensemble has great voices and lots of talent.  The girls are all pretty, the boys, even more so. Paul Cereghino really shines as Ash, the leader of the group, but kudos to the entire ensemble, Anna Skidis (who has just an amazing voice,) Eileen Engel, Angela Bubash and C.E. Fifer make up the rest of the “college kids,” Brittany Kohl does a lovely turn as the professor’s daughter, her “beau” played by Michael Wells has a wonderful moment ala “Mr Cellophane” from Chicago when he sings “Bit-Part Demon,” and Zachary Stefaniak plays loveable, reliable backwoods Jake, hillbilly hero, with great flamboyance and flair. Jeff Loeffler rounds out the ensemble playing the professor.

Credit (Courtesy of John Lamb)
(l to r) Zachary Stefaniak, Anna Skidis, C.E. Fifer, Angela Bubash, Paul Cereghino, Eileen Engel, Jeff Loeffler in Stray Dog Theatre's “Evil Dead: The Musical”.

I must mention Jamie Lynn Marble who choreographed the fabulous number “Do the Necronomicon.” Hysterical. Nathan Marshall’s set is gorgeous, for a run-down cabin in the woods, Alexandra Scibetta Quigley’s costumes are sexy and appropriately funky and Tyler Duenow’s lights have a modern twist on the horror genre with color and fun effects. But all glory goes to director Been, who orchestrates the entire piece with great success.
Looking for Halloween diversion this year? Zombie fans, look no further.  Evil Dead, the Musical continues at Tower Grove Abbey through November 2nd.

Mike Schrand began his radio career at St. Louis Public Radio as a live recording intern from 1986 to 1988. From 1988 to 1992, he acted as Jazz ‘Till Dawn producer and host and weekend announcer, occasional engineer for Jazzstream With Walter Parker and Jazz Unlimited and Morning Edition engineer and producer. From 1992 to 1995, Schrand worked in the corporate world, but returned as a weekend announcer in 1995. In 1996, Schrand was hired as St. Louis Public Radio Traffic Director and was promoted to Assistant Program Director in 1998 and Program Director in 2001. In his spare time he writes, sings, and plays bass in the local roots quartet Salt Of The Earth, and enjoys down time with his family in St. Louis City.