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Evil Dead: The Musical
NEW YORK -- Sit in the front row of "Evil Dead: The Musical" and the set itself seems ready to attack.
A stuffed beaver, one of the gleefully tacky decorations of the cabin stage set, stares you down with menace. A trophy moose gazes from the wall with appropriate hopelessness. Woods seem to creep up on you, and the stage floor seems angled so that any splashing blood will hit you dead in the face.
Which, of course, it will.
The first rows of the show, opening off-Broadway on Wednesday at New World Stages, are reserved as a "Splatter Zone" where guests "can pretty much count on getting hosed down by blood," in the words of Christopher Bond, the musical's 29-year-old co-director.
The blood comes courtesy of a host of chain saws and other cutting implements used to dispel the ranks of demon-possessed bodies throughout the show. Producers promise the blood will wash out, but New York laundries may make a killing in the process.
The musical goes for laughs over gore, calculating that fans appreciate the "Evil Dead" films for their camp as well as their grotesque qualities. No one will leave scared, and every pail of blood is spilled in good fun.
Twenty-seven-year-old Danny Diaz, who emerged soaked from a recent show after sitting in the splatter zone, said there was no question the musical lived up to the movies.
"They kind of updated it a little bit, but it kept having everything that was a part of the story," he said.
That story includes so many elements -- from possessed friends to decapitations, all delivered as deadpan black comedy -- that the show's creative team decided the only way to ramp up the story was to set it to music with such songs as "Look Who's Evil Now," "What the (Expletive) Was That" and "Do the Necronomicon."
"Everybody leaves here with a smile on their faces and blood on their shirts," says George Reinblatt, who wrote the book and lyrics.
Bond was working in a video store when he first saw "Evil Dead" and sensed it could become a kind of heir to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," a production on which he had worked.
He recruited Reinblatt, a fellow graduate of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, as well as another fellow graduate, Frank Cipolla, who serves as musical supervisor.
The production has taken over the post-collegiate lives of all three -- Cipolla is 31, and Reinblatt and Bond are 29 -- as they've brought the show from Ontario to New York.
Together they combined elements of both the low-budget "Evil Dead" and the better-budgeted (and far funnier) "Evil Dead 2." Teens visiting a cabin in the woods, led by the sturdy jawed Ash, accidentally read a spell that unleashes demons. The demons quickly get down to possessing everyone they can, as well as Ash's hand.
Actor Bruce Campbell is a cult hero for his performance as Ash -- a role that requires charm, heroism, bone-dry humor and cutting off that bedeviled appendage. But the creators have found a worthy musical replacement in Ryan Ward, who answered a flier they posted. His lanky heroics anchor the show.
In the spirit of the original "Evil Dead," the show initially pulled in favors from friends and relied on a cast of unknowns.
The creators say the first performance, fittingly enough, was done in near darkness on the night of the August 2003 massive blackout that swept across Ontario and much of the northeastern United States.
The show went on in a parking lot, with headlights instead of stage lights. What would have been a bad omen for any other show seemed like a perfect start for "Evil Dead."
They won the blessing of the film's creators -- including director Sam Raimi, who has gone on to helm the "Spider-Man" series -- by e-mailing Campbell at his Web site. But that hasn't stopped them from taking good-natured potshots at Raimi, including complaints from one character about having "Spider-Man" as her in-flight movie.
This being "Evil Dead," no one takes anything too seriously. In an interview, the creators stressed that the show is one to see with your pals, preferably after a few drinks.
Thor Stockman, who watched from the splatter zone with a group of friends, found that his seat brought a built-in, after-show conversation topic: how he got so bloody.
"I was cringing and covering my eyes so much, I'm not sure which ... demon it was," said Stockman, 50. His friends, meanwhile, argued over which onstage demon-scalping was to blame.