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 (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.