Oct. 12--The 11th season at Stray Dog Theatre opened Thursday with a revival of its most popular show ever, "Evil Dead: The Musical." A horror-movie spoof timed for the Halloween season, this show gives fans exactly what it promises -- even a chance to pay extra for the privilege of sitting in the "splatter zone," where your T-shirt will be decorated with stage blood. It's silly, it's messy and it's just about sold out.
The show's creators -- George Reinblatt, Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris and Christopher Bond (not the former Missouri senator) -- based the musical on director Sam Raimi's gory, goofy movie franchise. An instant hit when it debuted at a Toronto bar 10 years ago, "Evil Dead: The Musical" is a college revue pushed to the max, stuffed with jokes, mayhem and a wink or two from the knowing young performers. They know just what they're up to.
In "Evil Dead," college kids head for the woods to spend spring break at a remote, inaccessible cabin. But danger lurks! The trees are alive -- and so, apparently, are something called Candarian demons. (Are they the same as the trees? I couldn't figure it out. But it seemed like a mistake to over-think it.) Our hero Ash (Paul Cereghino, whose breezy gallantry is quite a change of pace from his recent HotCity performance in "Entertaining Mr. Sloane") fights to keep evil at bay. But it's not easy when you can't be sure who's a friend and who's just turned into a demon.
Director Justin Been keeps the big cast moving fast. They get an extra push from an instrumental trio and from choreographer Jamie Lynn Marble. She turns romantic cliches on their head when Cereghino and Eileen Engel sing "Housewares Employee," and also comes up with a seriously disturbed tango for Cereghino and C.E. Feiger.
As Ash's nerdy sister Cheryl, Anna Skidis has a ball with a big "transformation" song of the type so often heard in musicals, "Look Who's Evil Now." Okay, it's not exactly "You're the One That I Want" from "Grease." But Cheryl's got bigger goals than a pink satin jacket.
Zachary Stefaniak is a crowd-pleaser as a helpful hillbilly who sings his own praises in "Good Old Reliable Jake," and Brittany Kohl is nice and crisp as a girl with an unusual problem, "All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons." Overall, it would help if the performers enunciated a little more clearly. But on the other hand, audience members in the know laugh so much, it could be hard to hear everything -- even if all the actors sounded like Henry Higgins.
Set designer Nathan Marshall and lighting designer Tyler Duenow spoof the spooky staples of their arts; costume designer Alexandra Scibetta Quigley and make-up designer Sarah Castelli get down and dirty for old-fashioned scary looks. It's not a movie and it doesn't try to be. Movies can't bleed on you.
'Evil Dead: The Musical'
Where --Tower Grove Abbey, 2348 Tennessee Avenue
When --Through Nov. 2. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays
How much --$20; $18 for students and older adults. $35 for seats in the "splatter zone"; each of these comes with a T-shirt to put on over your clothes.
More info --314-865-1995;
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