Sept. 26--Critics since the birth of Broadway have asked what makes for the perfect musical.
How about a leading man who cuts off his hand with a chainsaw, plugs his stump into the handle, and uses it to hack his way through a horde of the evil undead?
Or a heroine who is initiated into the Inferno's most exclusive supper club, the Demon Army, by having unprotected sex with a randy tree?
And what musical would be complete without a stage setup that pumps buckets of blood onto the audience?
"Oh, yes we call the first few rows the splatter zone," said Christopher Bond, director, co-creator and co-composer of Evil Dead the Musical.
A song-and-dance-enhanced adaptation of filmmaker Sam Raimi's 1980s horror cult classics, Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, Bond's musical is the first show of the fall at the newly refurbished Prince Music Theater in Center City. It opened this week and will run through Oct. 20.
"During our very first run, we noticed we got blood all over people in the front seats," said Bond, a Toronto artist who has landed a monster hit with his very first show.
"People loved it so much, those seats now sell out fast."
Raimi's Evil Dead and its 1987 follow-up pretty much the same story: Michigan State University student Ash (Bruce Campbell); his sister, Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss); and three of his college pals spend a weekend in a remote forest cabin, where they find a copy of the Naturon Demonto, a strange, ancient book bound in human skin.
When they recite its passages, a demonic force awakens in the forest and takes them over, beginning with Cheryl. Mayhem, blood, guts, and gory glory follow.
A lifelong horror fan who "grew up with Freddy [Krueger] and Jason [Voorhees] and Tales From the Crypt," the 36-year-old Bond and cowriter George Reinblatt rediscovered Raimi's films while casting about for a musical that would evoke a Rocky Horror Picture Show vibe.
"We wanted a show for people who aren't there just to watch, but to have an interactive experience, to drink, dance, and party," Bond said.
"We thought the natural next step in the Evil Dead journey would be for the characters to start singing and dancing."
Bond directed a very rudimentary version in a Toronto nightlcub in 2003. "We opened on Aug. 14, the night of the Northeast Blackout," Bond said. "So we just took the sets and the props out to the sidewalk and performed it there."
They refined the show over the next five years, taking it to Off Broadway in New York and back again to Toronto, where it premiered to critical acclaim in 2008.
Bond said Evil Dead the Musical marries the stark horror of the Evil Dead with the absurdist humor Raimi injects into the second film.
"There's a real slapstick comedy aspect to it," Bond said, "and I was really excited about bringing its Three Stooges nuances to the stage."
The show would never have happened were it not for the generosity of Bruce Campbell, who helped Bond and his partner acquire rights for the musical adaptation.
"We were just a bunch of goofy Canadians who wantd to do a musical," Bond said. "They didn't think it would get this big."
Ryan Ward, who plays Ash, wasn't so sure about the show, either.
"When I saw the postings for it, I thought, 'Man what a bunch of yoyos'!" he said from Toronto.
"Then I actually started talking to them and reading the script, and, wow, it was funny."
Ward said his character is the ultimate reluctant hero: "He starts off this meek college student, and he's thrust into a position of having to kill demons."
Alison Smyth, 30, who plays Cheryl, said the musical retains the movies' most gruesome scenes, including her rape at the, er, branches of a tree.
"We have actors dressed in these amazing tree consumes," she said, "and they start pushing me around and pushing me into each other. . . . It's actually pretty scary."
Bond promises that Evil Dead the Musical has something for everyone.
"You don't have to be a horror fan to like it. If you're a musical theater snob, you'd love it," he said.
"The music ranges from traditional Broadway tunes and ballads. There is rock-and-roll and there's tango. We have everything.
"Oh, and a running chainsaw."
Evil Dead the Musical
Through Oct. 20 at Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St. Tickets: $25 $65. Information: 215-893-1999, www.PrinceMusicTheater.org or www.evildeadthemusical.com
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