Monthly Archives: October 2009

Evil Dead: The Musical; Down Stage Right (Review)

In an ideal world, reviews of each show would be done completely independently of others, not by making side-by-side comparisons.  However, in the case of the two productions of Evil Dead: The Musical running so close together, that becomes almost impossible.

In last week’s review of Evil Dead: The Musical at the Vogue I panned the music and book of the show.  After seeing the second production of Evil Dead currently playing in Vancouver, I admit that I may have been unduly harsh.

What brought on this sudden change of heart?  Simply put, the Vancouver production was better acted and better sung, and that made all the difference.  Even in a campy musical, with limited character development and a bare-bones plot, acting still matters.

With essentially the same script, lyrics and music, I got an entirely different vibe from the local production.  This version just had way more fun.

Scott Walters as Ash in Down Stage Right Production's Evil Dead: The Musical.

Scott Walters as Ash in Down Stage Right Productions' Evil Dead: The Musical.

Scott Walters (We Will Rock You, Mirvish) as Ash hammed it up, giving his eyebrows the workout of their lives with his rapid-fire facial contortions.  Meghan Anderssen (Thoroughly Modern Millie, TUTS) as Ash’s girlfriend Linda and Ian Rozylo as perpetual horndog Scotty both brought personal flourishes to their respective roles.

Local musical-theatre dynamo Jennifer Neumann (Les Misérables, Arts Club) as Ash’s younger sister Cheryl once again brought home the goods.

Meghan Gardiner in the dual-roles of Annie and Shelley was an unfortunately weak link.  Her somewhat wooden take on the ditzy Shelley might have come off as a passable interpretation, except that much of that same stiffness was also present in her portrayal of Annie.

The actors from the second story line were also not as impressive. Matthew Graham’s Ed needed to be reined in and could have benefited from some stronger direction.  Mat Baker (Les Misérables, Arts Club) as good old reliable Jake was also disappointing.  Where most of the other actors seemed to have found a comfortable groove, Baker’s portrayal was harsh and rubbed me the wrong way.

Sylvia Zaradic’s off-stage musical direction was spot-on.  She and the band consisting of Boyd Grealy, Aaron McKinney and Kelly Brown added an extra level of drama missing from their competition over at the Vogue.

Special honours go to set designer John Bessette.  While the other Evil Dead has the use of the original Toronto and off-Broadway set, Bessette’s (presumably lower-budget) design is no cheap knockoff.  In several respects, it actually worked better from a theatrical standpoint.

I did find Ken Overbey’s choreography to be somewhat underdone.  The group dance number “Do the Necronomicon” was anticlimactic and in need of some punching up.

Overall, director Mark Carter has shaped a solid production and has coaxed some life from a show that last week I was ready to toss out.

In some ways, the differences between the two productions are like night and day.  For blood, gore and special effects the Vogue production is the clear-cut winner.  But Down Stage Right Productions has given proof to the old adage that money can’t buy everything.  For pure acting, singing, comedy and heart, Evil Dead at the Norman Rothstein Theatre can’t be beat.

Evil Dead: The Musical, presented by Down Stage Right Productions, plays until November 7, 2009; 8 PM (with additional midnight shows October 30, 31 and November 6) at the Norman Rothstein Theatre, 950 West 41st Ave (at Oak). Tickets are available online now.

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Evil Dead: The Musical; Ground Zero (Review)

The Evil Dead fans came out in droves for the opening night of Evil Dead: The Musical on Thursday night.  The current of excitement was tangible outside the Vogue as they lined up in the damp Vancouver air.  Inside, the atmosphere was far more akin to a rock concert than to that of a typical night out at the theatre.

Musical-theatre patrons can be a devoted and passionate lot, but they generally don’t show up to see Les Misérables or A Chorus Line in stage makeup or costumes.  The Evil Dead crowd was a definite exception to that rule.

The Cast of Evil Dead: The Musical playing The Vogue Theatre. Photo- Sean Dennie, Photoganda.

The Cast of Evil Dead: The Musical playing The Vogue Theatre. Photo- Sean Dennie, Photoganda.

The musical version comes with a built-in fan base thanks to director Sam Raimi’s cult horror Evil Dead film trilogy.  Movie fans were amply represented in the opening night’s audience as evidenced by their enthusiastic appreciation of inside jokes referencing Raimi and his films.

For those unfamiliar with the movies, Evil Dead follows five college students spending their spring break at an old abandoned cabin in the woods.  An ancient evil is released and blood, gore and mayhem ensue.

Producers, publicists and the press in other cities have repeatedly compared Evil Dead: The Musical to that other camp classic, The Rocky Horror Show.  Sadly, Evil Dead doesn’t quite live up to the billing.

Sure, there are some passing similarities to Rocky Horror, but there really should be no comparison.  The songs and lyrics plumb the depths of awfulness.  Not in the way of being so bad that they’re actually good.  These are just bad, in the truly worst sense of the word.  And it’s a shame.  The slasher and horror genre are ripe for musical parody, but the book and the music here just aren’t up to snuff.

The sound quality was noticeably spotty and I struggled to catch many lines as mics dropped in and out with little regard to who was actually supposed to be speaking or singing.  Conversely, lead actor Tyler Rive was over-amplified throughout the show.

With that said, based on the audience’s reaction, the quality (or lack thereof) of the music, lyrics, or plot was inconsequential.  They roared and cheered with delight each time that a familiar line from the film was recited, or a body was dismembered, or when a demonically-animated corpse made sexually suggestive pelvic thrusts.  I have to assume that only part of that enthusiasm was due to alcohol or other intoxicants.

Much of the excitement revolved around the gratuitous use of blood and gore.  Patrons pay a premium to sit in the first five rows of the theatre, which are termed the “Splatter Zone.”  At intermission ushers handed out plastic ponchos to protect against the second act onslaught of stage blood which rained from all directions onto the audience members in the “Splatter Zone.”

High art it definitely ain’t.  Evil Dead may not be everyone’s particular cup of blood, but for the sheer spectacle and concert-style atmosphere it’s worth checking out.  Excitement about the theatre is always a good thing in my book, even if the material doesn’t deserve it.

Evil Dead: The Musical, presented by Ground Zero Theatre, Hit & Myth Productions and Keystone plays an extended run until November 14, 2009 at the Vogue Theatre, 918 Granville St.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-280-4444.

High School Musical 2; URP (Upcoming show)

High School Musical was such a success for URP back in 2007 and 2008 that they’re mounting the sequel to the massive Disney hit for their 15th season.  HSM and its two sequels have a huge following among tweens, teens and Disney fans of all ages, which should bode well for URP’s ticket sales.

Cast of URP's production of High School Musical 2

The cast of URP's 2009 production of High School Musical 2

High School Musical 2 stars Aaron Lau, Julie Trepanier, Scott Perrie, Shannon
Adams, Brandyn Eddy, and Jessica Kelly.

URP presents High School Musical 2, playing November 3-22, 2009, at the Centennial Theatre, 2300 Lonsdale, North Vancouver.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-984-4484.

39… and Ticking! (Upcoming show)

Full Figure Theatre and the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts present the world premiere of 39… and Ticking! Written and directed by Sharon Heath, this clown musical deals with issues of dating, aging, raising kids and procreating.

39_Ticking

Featuring music composed by Ted Hamilton and Joan MacLean, with musical direction by Bill Costin and choreography by Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg.  39… and Ticking! stars Joan MacLean, Lisa Beley, Lisa Bunting and Cheryl Mullen.

39… and Ticking! plays October 14-17 in the Studio at the Shadbolt Centre, 6450 Deer Lake Ave, Burnaby.  Tickets are available by phone at 604-205-3000.

Back to You – the Life and Music of Lucille Starr (Review)

Back to You – the Life and Music of Lucille Starr opened the 27th season of the Firehall Arts Centre on Wednesday with a taste of Canadian rockabilly and country.  This bio-tuner, written by local playwright Tracey Power, unfortunately, has little to distinguish itself from the multitude of other similarly structured biographical musicals.

Everyone, even those who have never heard of Canadian country singer Lucille Starr, will recognise the underlying story.  Talented girl meets boy and they become big stars. Boy ends up being no good and drags girl down with him.  Girl overcomes the odds and makes it again on her own.

Beverley Elliott as Lucille Starr. photo- James Loewen

Beverley Elliott as Lucille Starr. Photo by James Loewen

That’s not to take away from the real-life Lucille Starr’s experiences and successes.  Starr made it big in a time when there was no Canadian music industry to speak of.  But this staged version doesn’t add anything new to an already overcrowded genre.

The first act is overly-formulaic and poorly paced.  Beverley Elliott plays Lucille as she returns to her hometown of Coquitlam for a comeback concert in 1981.  Lucille then recalls a series of loosely linked vignettes of her early days as she sings her way to fame.  Elliott does a fine job with the music but is given little opportunity to do much else beyond a few wisecracks and one-liners.

The acting and emotions are left in the hands of the versatile and always enjoyable Alison MacDonald (Songs for A New World, Not Another Musical Co-op) as the younger Lucille and Jeff Gladstone as her music partner and eventual husband Bob Regan.  MacDonald and Elliott are both accomplished singers and they easily breeze through the score.

The story is told completely through Starr’s eyes and, maybe as a result, her husband comes off as one-dimensional.  Gladstone turns on the charm but, as written, his character never quite connects with the audience.

If the show has one strength, it’s the music.  Musical director Steve Charles has successfully knit together a tight unit with musicians Jeremy Holmes and Jimmy Roy.

Luckily, the pace picks up in the second half when more attention is paid to the details and the personal emotional highs and lows of Starr’s life.  But it seems like too little too late.  Back to You, while far from a complete disaster, never ventures into anything worthwhile and is mostly ordinary and forgettable.

Back to You – the Life and Music of Lucille Starr, presented by Musical Theatreworks, plays from September 30- October 10, 2009 at the Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova St.  Tickets are available by calling the box office at 604-689-0926.