“Evil Dead The Musical,” being put on by UW-Madison’s University Theatre, is bloody, yes, but also almost entirely funny.
“There’s not really a moment in the show that really tries to be sincere or serious,” said its director, Jace Nichols.
But be warned: It’s not recommended for anyone under 17 because of strong language and “incredibly adult themes,” Nichols said.
“Think the worst of horror movies,” he said. “And, what sets you up to die in a horror movie is your bad behavior. And so, this show is bad behavior in spades.”
“Evil Dead The Musical,” was born in Canada, based on the classic horror film series, “The Evil Dead,” “Evil Dead II” and “Army of Darkness.” In 2014, a touring version came to the Overture Center, where its director, Christopher Bond, said it was well received.
Nichols hopes that people who saw the touring musical and loved it will want to see this production, too. And it’s having two separate runs: a summer run, through Aug. 24 in Mitchell Theatre at Vilas Hall, and then another starting Sept. 12.
The material could be traumatizing for those younger than college age, Nichols said. “I don’t think it’s gory because it’s done in a comedic style, but there’s blood and severed body parts, heads being chopped off ... It’s one-of-a-kind as far as musicals go.”
That’s saying a lot for Nichols, who’s directed “Sweeney Todd,” one of the darkest musicals ever written, several times.
When the touring musical came to Madison it was known for its splatter zone, where, in the first five or six rows at the Capitol Theater, audience members got covered in fake blood.
The UW production will have a smaller splatter area, Nichols said. Those seats become coveted, and because the UW shows are general admission, audience members who want to get bloody will have to get their seats early. Other audience members will be warned.
“So you won’t accidentally get a ticket and be stuck in a bloodbath,” Nichols said.
“Evil Dead” fans who seek out those seats often wear rain ponchos to stay clean, and the UW Department of Theatre and Drama will make 30 available to the first three rows for each performance, said Scot Shepley, who handles publicity for University Theatre.
The official “Blood Zone” is the first three center rows, or about 33 seats, Shepley.
The students acting in the musical will get particularly messy.
“No actor is safe,” said Tanner Zocher, who plays Scott, one of the five horny teenagers who go to an abandoned cabin in the woods where the horror ensues. “Everybody has their chance in the blood. We’re going to be going home nice and sticky every night.”
“Evil Dead The Musical” is based on the 1981 film written and directed by Sam Raimi. It spawned two sequels and a TV series, “Ash vs Evil Dead.”
Josie Brandmeier, who plays Cheryl, another in the group of unsuspecting college students, said the musical is a parody of the things that happen in the horror movie genre.
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She said it’s not necessary to have seen any of the “Evil Dead” movies or the television series to think the musical is funny and get some of the jokes.
“It calls back to archetypes in that whole genre,” said Brandmeier, a journalism student. Audience members will have that automatic horror movie response: “Oh, please, that girl should not go into the woods. Why is she doing that alone? Of course you shouldn’t do that.”
Zocher, who majors in genetics, called the musical “lightning fast.”
“The energy is through the roof — the entire show, all the way through,” he said. “It’s short, it’s snappy and doesn’t outstay its welcome. It hits you like a train and keeps on going.”
Even people unfamiliar with “Evil Dead” will see something familiar, something that’s been inspired by the campy franchise, Zocher said. “It’s the movie that really sort of spawned the teens-get-killed genre.”
Brandmeier and Zocher are each getting three credits for being in the play.
“I came to this show not knowing much about ‘Evil Dead’ as a series,” Brandmeier said. “I came into it kind of watching the movies and then learning about this whole world of B movies and horror movies.”
The experience has been collaborative and creative, where the actors are able to add to the show, she said. “People are always just shooting out ideas. Because in this kind of ridiculous comedy with really no rules, you’re just like, ‘Oh, is this funny here?’ ‘Yeah, let’s try it out.’”
Zocher said the musical relies on cast chemistry, adding that Nichols has created a creative space that fosters experimentation. “That’s super helpful for this brand of comedy.”
Without giving away too much, Zocher said his favorite part of the show is a big 11th-hour dance number “where all the evil zaniness of the show comes together.”
Brandmeier agreed that number is a high point, adding that the last quarter of the show is where it goes from individual numbers to everything coming together.
“All the demons are there and all hell breaks loose,” she said. “Quite literally, all hell breaks loose and it’s one of the most exhausting segments in a show that I think I’ve ever done.”
Nichols said he’s never seen that energy in another musical. “There’s three back-to-back-to-back giant production numbers with nary a breath in between them.”
The fact is, “Evil Dead” is not the kind of theater he’d normally direct, or even choose to see. “As an audience member, I like actor pieces,” he said.
Yet the show works well with how he directs. “Musical theater is easily the most collaborative art form, from design through your music director or choreographer, and then actors. I try to sort of foster that environment as much as possible,” he said.
“And I’ve been blessed with a cast of 10 who absolutely took that to heart and they bring it.”