I was patiently waiting outside the V Theater, nestled inside the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in lovely Las Vegas. I was taking in the scenery and minding my own business when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my first Deadite. It crept out from the front of the assembled crowd I was standing near, leering with something that could have been menace, but it seemed more like bemused disgust to me. Whilst I was distracted by its bad complexion, dirty dress and wild hair, I didn’t notice the other one that slipped out from nowhere, leaping up onto the rim of a nearby fountain and screaming:
“WELCOME TO EVIL DEAD LAS VEGAS!!!”
Thus began what was to be one of my most memorable experiences as an Evil Dead fan. Ever. But, I’m getting ahead of myself; let me at least give out a little history to those of you who may not know anything about it.
Disclaimer: Let me throw in right out front that the show isn’t for little kids or people that don’t like cheesy humor and bloody fun…if you’re expecting Cirque du Soleil, that’s up the Strip a ways…you’re warned.
Now, that’s outta the way…
Evil Dead: The Musical began in 2003 in Canada. It was (of course) based on Sam Raimi’s trilogy of films featuring Bruce Campbell, incorporating elements from all three of the popular movies. With the blessings of the original’s creators, the play began as a workshop, but quickly gained a loyal following; loyal enough for it become an off-Broadway production in New York from November 2006 to February 2007; it was brought back in Toronto that following May and went on to celebrate its 300th performance by 2008. Over the next few years, no less than one hundred and fifty different productions of the show were put on by everyone from professional stage companies to school theater groups, all over America and in other countries as far away as Japan and Korea. In 2011, producer/director Sirc Michaels opened the production in Las Vegas, and after two successful runs it was brought to the strip as a resident show (the only show in the history of Las Vegas to do so), updated to become Evil Dead: The Musical Ultimate 4D Experience. Michaels’ production increased the encouragement of audience participation during the show, and added an additional special feature: The “Splatterzone“. This is a seating area where audience members can elect to upgrade their tickets and subject themselves to the spatter of twenty gallons or so of warm “blood” during certain times per performance. These contributions help make each and every show an unprecedented interactive experience for ticketholders.
OK, you’re up to speed; I’ll get to the brass tacks of my thoughts on the show. If you’ve suffered through what I’ve written already, you can probably deduce that I thoroughly enjoyed myself, so let’s get back to where I left off with my ‘Deadite’ ushers…
I was seated right up against the stage in the very front row (Splatterzone, of course; would you expect any less?). From the moment the show started, I was laughing; the introductory number with Ash, Scotty, Cheryl, Linda and Shelly was hilarious. I’m not going to give away any details, but you Fellow Fans would see familiar things from this the very outset; the way certain things were worked into the show were very clever and funny. As the play went on, I was amazed at how many elements of the films were worked into it, yet it was still fresh, funny and unexpected in many ways. Nothing was too glossy or glittery, but that was a plus; the minimalist nature of the set and props were a benefit to the enjoyment of the show rather than a detriment. Even though I didn’t see the signs of a typical mega-budget Vegas production, I did see some things that meant far more to me as an Evil Dead fan: a healthy respect for the source material, and genuine camaraderie in the cast. Each actor embodied what you remember from the movies, but put their own stamp on the roles (yes, even Ash; Ben Stobber was funny and properly Ash-like, but still had his own vibe; it was good enough for him to win Best Performance By A Lead Actor in the 2013 BroadwayWorld Awards, and certainly good enough for me), and worked as a well-versed team. The interaction aspect was great fun; an audience member called out to the defense of Cheryl as derision was piled on her by Scotty (“she’s such a STUPID BITCH!”); she reacted directly to the fan with her gratitude. When Jake first offered to show Anna and Ed to the cabin for forty bucks, I myself called out “A hundred bucks!” and was rewarded with a point and a wink from Jake before he turned to the others and said “No, a hundred bucks!” These kind of occurrences were persistent throughout the night; the audience was constantly acknowledged both visually and verbally by the cast. I felt I was actually getting to be a part of one of my favorite mythologies, and I’m sure from the laughter, cheers and applause that rocked the theater that I wasn’t alone in the sentiment.
And let there be blood: from the moment the first drop was shed on stage, we Splatterzone folks were included in a very different way; when the first character got stabbed, the first gush of blood washed over the back of my head and down my neck. It was NOT to be the last.
As the plot gained momentum, so did the blood pumps; from splatter that seemed to come from everywhere in the darkness to geysers spraying from individual characters themselves as they moved about the stage (and within the audience as well), I was soaked and laughing my ass off by the time the show ended. The whole group of us Splatterzone folks looked like we’d been rolling around on the floor in a slaughterhouse during peak hours (for the record, the “blood” washed off of me and my clothes like it was never there), but we were all smiles and giggles. The show was a fantastic homage to the films we fans hold dear, yet something new, exciting and fun that allowed us in the audience to not only enjoy, but actually feel we belonged to. It really seemed that the goal was to make us happy, while simultaneously adding something new for us to latch onto; if I’m right about that, then the cast and crew of the play absolutely succeeded in my case. Judging by the unrestrained reactions I heard, I’d wager they succeeded with the rest of the crowd as well.
After the show was over, we were brought into “S-Mart”, an exit alcove where all kinds of Evil Dead: The Musical 4D Experience swag was available for purchase; “Ash” and those original two Deadite ushers were also available for photo opportunities. After I picked up a couple t-shirts and a button (I couldn’t help myself) and a quick pic with the fellas, Sirc Michaels was kind enough to take me back into the empty theater to have a chat with him and some of his cast.
Sitting there in my blood-soaked state, I was eager to express my happiness with the show; as I suspected, the producer/director and actors seemed genuinely pleased with my joy.
“It’s all because of the fans,” Michaels said of the show’s success. “We’ve watched a lot of other shows, shows with bigger budgets, come and go since we’ve been here. It’s the fan base that makes our show a success.”
Greg Korin, who played the rough and tumble Jake, agreed. “I think that’s why the show’s been around so long, because of its rabid fan base.” He also feels that the setup of the show, with all the audience inclusion to appeal to those fans, is a big factor. “What other show on the Strip can you have the interaction that you have here? Aside from that one guy every six months that just doesn’t get it, the fans are great.”
I couldn’t resist asking what he meant by ‘that one guy that just doesn’t get it’.
“Tonight, while I was backstage getting my tree costume on,” he explained, “there was this drunk guy just wandering around. I asked if I could help him, and he’s like ‘There’s no damn singing in Evil Dead!’” The rest of us laughed along with him. “I could tell he was really out of it, so I just kinda ushered him out of one of the doors.”
Both Kolton Rostron (Scotty) and Jenn Daquila (who played both ditzy bimbo Shelly and determined daughter Anna) joined their cast-mate in the sentiment that the fans and their interactions with the cast was the biggest thrill for them as well as the audience.
“I love it!” smiled Daquila. “I love it when the people go crazy and nuts; it makes you want to do more!” Rostron chimed in with a wicked grin of his own. “The best is when someone tries to hide in the Splatterzone; that’s when they become my number one target!” He’s not kidding; I watched him hose down more than a couple of people during the evening.
Michaels reinforced the dependence upon and respect for the fans, as well for each other in all workings of the show. “We change as we move along; the cast has to gel together and what works is what we go with. I can’t just cast people who sing pretty; they have to get it, and we all have to get along.” When I asked him about the future, he continued with his infectious excitement.
“It’s all a mini-adventure; the singing, the dancing…there’s constant changes. We’ve opened a second version of the show upstairs [in the V Theater in Las Vegas], and we’re always trying different things. We’re working on new elements right now that will give the audience some more ‘Wow!’ moments…I always want people to be able to come back and see something new.” He added that the production is even starting to do weddings during the intermission of the show. “There’s nowhere else in Vegas that you can do that — not during a show.”
For all of this love for the fans, I also felt that the cast got as much out of it as we did; I can’t think of a better arrangement. All of this sentiment was summed up in a few words from Jenn Daquila:
“There’s nothing like coming off stage and saying ‘Oh my gosh, we had a fabulous audience tonight!’”
Well Jenn, I’d like to tell you, Greg, Kolton, all of your cast-mates and crew, and Sirc, that I had one hell of a great time. I want to thank all of you just once more for your generosity, and wish you all continued success. I hope to return to Sin City in the near future and see what you’ve changed up…
…and I’m telling you, Fellow Fans, if you find yourself in or around Las Vegas, Nevada, you should really, really see this show; endorsed by Bruce Campbell and embraced by Sam Raimi, it’s a quality work because of the attention, talent and passion of all involved, well-deserving of all the accolades it has received and continues to receive.
And get Splatterzone tickets, for chrissakes. You’ll be glad you did. =)