Horror, Camp, Comedy, and Splatter Come Together in Trustus Theatre’s Gloriously Gory "Evil Dead: The Musical" - a review by Jillian Owens

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What could possibly go wrong? Ash (played by Michael Hazin) is just an average S-Mart employee who wants to spend a relaxing spring break at a creepy abandoned cabin in the woods. Joining him on this vacation are his sweetheart, Linda (played by Elisabeth Baker), his jerk of a friend, Scotty (played by Patrick Dodds), his jerk of a friend’s recent hookup, Shelly (played by Abigail Ludwig), and his socially-awkward buzzkill of a little sister, Cheryl (played by Jodie Cain Smith.) When a mysterious trap door in the floor flies open, the fellas decide to investigate.

(L-R) Jodie Cain Smith, Elisabeth Baker, Michael Hazin, Patrick Dodds, Abigail Ludwig - rehearsal by  Richard Arthur Király - Photography

Michael Hazin and Patrick Dodds - - rehearsal by  Richard Arthur Király - Photography

Unless you’re -- as Scotty would say (and says repeatedly) -- “a stupid bitch,” you’ve probably figured out that this is the standard set-up for countless horror movies, and that there is no possible way for this to end well for our young friends. The group discovers a tape recorder and a very strange book, written in Latin. The bizarrely helpful voice on the tape (contributed by Scott Blanks) reveals that they hold the Necronomicon, a book of the dead bound in human flesh and written in human blood that has the power to unleash an army of some pretty catty Candarian demons upon the world. They, of course, play the transcription of the cursed words and release these aforementioned demons. And what do you do when being attacked by demons? You sing a song (“You stupid bitch!”)

Michael Hazin and Elisabeth Baker - rehearsal by Richard Arthur Király - Photography

Even the most pedestrian lovers of campy horror films can guess that this musical is based on the three films of the Evil Dead franchise: Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead 2 (1987), and Army of Darkness (1992.) The musical version, (created by George Reinblatt, Christopher Bond, Frank Cipolla, and Melissa Morris) was originally produced in 2003 in Toronto, Ontario where its success lead it to Off Broadway in 2006. The musical version combines the plots of the first two films, and contains several Army of Darkness references as well.

Jodie Cain Smith

The songs in the show are silly and fun, and reminiscent of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Song titles include, "All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons," “Bit-Part Demon","Do the Necronomicon", and –my personal favorite- “"What the F*ck Was That?" The music isn’t particularly challenging, and it certainly isn’t brilliant, but it’s also not trying to be. The simple score allowed director Chad Henderson to assemble a cast of very funny actors, some of whom are also very strong singers.

(L-R) Amy Brower and Michael Hazin -

Michael Hazin pulls off the role of Ash with a terrific Bruce Campbell (star of the film series) swagger and a commanding voice, and Elisabeth Baker was an obvious choice for the role of Linda, his sweet love interest. She’s also no stranger to musical theatre, and it shows. Matthew DeGuire seems an unlikely Jake (a rugged and sort of sketchy Mountain Man) which makes his role all the funnier and he nails every note. The rest of the cast’s strength lies primarily in their comedic abilities...and that’s okay. Jodie Cain Smith’s Cheryl is hilarious, both pre- and post- Deadite (the term for bodies possessed by Candarian demons), even if some of her numbers pushed her out of her comfortable vocal range. Amy Brower is the most melodramatic archaeologist you’ll ever meet, with some serious wardrobe malfunctions that lead to much laughter, and Patrick Dodds is a complete and utter jerkoff as Scotty, which in this case is a compliment.

Ash vs. the Deadites - "Come and get some!"- rehearsal photo  by Richard Arthur Király - Photography

Evil Dead: the Musical is the definitely the first musical I’ve ever been to that featured a “Splatter Zone.” That’s right - this stage adaptation maintains the high levels of campy gore established in the films, and if you’re feeling particularly fearless, you can choose to be covered in fake blood as the body count rises. You’ll also get to see a beheaded corpse with a grudge, a feisty dismembered hand, and a really unpleasant evil moose. Scenic Designers Brandon McIver and Baxter Engle and Prop Designer Jillian Peltzman have made this production a 4-D experience.

Evil Dead: The Musical is a must-see for horror fans, fans of all things funny, and fans of really strange musical adaptations. Go ahead...heed the calling of the Deadites...Join Us...at Trustus Theatre.

~ Jillian Owens

Evil Dead: The Musical runs through Saturday, July 26; call 803- 254-9732 or visit www.trustus.org for ticket information.  Also, be sure to check out the artwork of Sean McGuinness, aka That Godzilla Guy, the featured artist in the Gallery at Trustus for the run of the production.

 

"See Rock City & Other Destinations" at Trustus: A Stage-cation Well Worth the Trip - a review by Arik Bjorn

Americans are suckers for a good travelogue set within the boundaries of their own white whale nation. Perhaps this is because so many of us spend most of our lives in some little corner of the vastness that is the Fruited Plain. For millions, just a trip from Manhattan to Coney Island, or from a one gas station town in North Carolina to Lookout Mountain, Georgia, represents an odyssey. And a visitor from Niagara Falls may as well be an extraterrestrial being to someone living in far-off Roswell, New Mexico. As I drove home from Trustus Theatre’s production of See Rock City and Other Destinations—tempted to put the pedal to the metal and drive north on I-95, past South of the Border and to wherever life takes me—I couldn’t think of any other significant musicals with expedition as a central theme. (Sorry, Oh! Calcutta! doesn’t count.) Yet there are so many great American travel books. My favorites include Umberto Eco’s Travels in Hyperreality and Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. But every American travel narrative, in my opinion, bows to the greatness that is John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. (Charley was Steinbeck’s trusty French standard poodle.)  There are many diadem quotations in this book, but this one is a true gem: “We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. … The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

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And that is the message at the heart of Adam Mathias and Brad Alexander’s award-winning production (2011 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Book and Outstanding Lyrics), presented in yellow-golf-sweater and tour-guide-khaki splendor by veteran director Dewey Scott-Wiley. As Scott-Wiley states: “We may embark on these journeys looking for escape…these destinations have the power to open our hearts and minds to real change.”

Steinbeck would agree.

In short, See Rock City presents separately parceled stories about average Americans pursuing humble dreams against the backdrop of popular tourist destinations: two strangers eating pie en route to a breathtaking view in the title town, Rock City; a conspiracy theorist seeking otherworldly companionship and self-validation near Area 51; a chemistry of multi-generational coupling before the normally unromantic backdrop of the Alamo; sisters celebrating ice, whales and ashes on an Alaskan cruise ship; two “d!ckheads” discovering forbidden love during a Coney Island freak show ride; and a bride-to-be barreling with nervous laughter at Niagara Falls.

The trick to nailing any stage expedition is set design. I admit I was nervous at first when I sat in my cozy Trustus seat and beheld the minimalist design that included not much more than two red diner stools. But once the curtains opened, Baxter Engle’s amazing three-screen projection design turned the entire stage into an animated album of famous American landmarks: the Space Needle, Wrigley Field, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc. The projections continued throughout the show, providing the patron with a believable sensation of “being there.” In fact, during the Niagara Falls vignette, I practically felt water spraying on my chest—then realized I had spilled Cabernet on myself. (Still, though, adult beverages in the comfort of one’s seat. Go, Trustus!)

Another major success of the production was the musical trio of Randy Moore (musical director, piano), Ryan Knott (cello) and Jeremy Polley (guitar). Moore makes a spot-on choice by concentrating on strings and conjuring the spirit of Woody Guthrie and so many other American road-trip artists. In fact, halfway through the production my mind couldn’t shake sounds gone-by of Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon;"  I could practically taste the beef jerky of road trip yore.

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Thousands of hours of effort go into every stage production, and every reviewer shouts curses at his or her limited space to credit those who deserve praise. The entire See Rock City troupe is worthy of accolades for acting and song; same for all of the technical staff. Truly outstanding are the voices of Kendrick Marion as Cutter the “motherf&%#er” prep school student and Kevin Bush as Jess of the Rock City-bound jalopy. I’ve seen Matthew DeGuire in many a role on Columbia stages, but it’s well worth the price of admission just to see him as a carney in lumberjack plaid and as Grampy, channeling the voice of post-stroke Anthony Hopkins in Legends of the Fall. Vicky Saye Henderson and Kyle (happy birthday!) Collins demonstrate ballet-like romantic chemistry, and it was a pleasure to see USC bioinformatics doctoral candidate Chase Nelson prove that science and the arts can mix—just don’t tell his Ph.D. advisor that he camps out in the New Mexico desert waiting for aliens. And stealing the first act is a “green jar from Home Depot,” tossed back and forth by Henderson,  Linda Posey Collins, and Caroline Jones Weidner; what it contains, you’ll have to travel to Trustus to see.

Kevin Bush, in "See Rock City & Other Destinations" - photo by Jonathan Sharpe

See Rock City & Other Destinations is a weekend-worthy stage-cation and a wonderful theatrical reminder that setting sail for somewhere else, letting a trip “take you,” is what life is all about. Who knows what you’ll discover when you get yourself to the theater.

See Rock City & Other Destinations runs March 14-April 5 (Thursdays through Sundays) with all performances beginning at 8 p.m. with the exception of 3 p.m. matinee performances on March 23 and March 30. (There is no matinee on March 16.) Tickets are $27 for adults, $25 for military and senior, and $20 for students. Half-price Student Rush-Tickets are available 15 minutes prior to curtain. Trustus Theatre is located at 520 Lady Street in the Vista. Call 254.9732 for more information or to reserve tickets. Parking is available on Lady Street and on Pulaski Street. The Main Stage entrance is located on the Publix side of the building. To learn more about Trustus Theatre , visit www.trustus.org . The Thursday preview performance of See Rock City & Other Destinations was a “Dining with Friends” fundraiser to benefit the AIDS Benefit Foundation of South Carolina. Kudos to this group for its excellent philanthropic work!

~ Arik Bjorn

 

Jillian Owens reviews [title of show] at Trustus Theatre

Trustus Theatre has just launched their production of [title of show] , and no…that’s not a misprint.  Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell are two nobodies in New York who have only three weeks to write a musical to enter in the inaugural New York Musical Theatre Festival.  Unable to come up with an original work (not a show based on a book or a movie), they decided to write their musical about their experience writing their musical, along with their talented friends, Susan and Heidi. How meta!

This probably sounds like one of the most trite, gimmicky, and self-aggrandizing ideas you’ve ever heard of, right?  Don’t worry, you aren’t alone in thinking this.  Jeff, Hunter, Susan, and Heidi all have their doubts and fierce insecurities about this work-in-progress about their work-in-progress, and that’s what makes this tiny show with only four chairs and a keyboard really special.

Keep in mind: this show is a true story about four friends who played themselves in show about themselves.  Director Dewey Scott-Wiley had the unenviable task of casting this show with four real people who could fully embody the characters of four other real people who custom-made a show for themselves.  I’m happy to say, she nailed it.  Kevin Bush (Jeff), Matthew DeGuire (Hunter), Robin Gottlieb (Heidi), and Laurel Posey (Susan) are all Columbia theatre veterans whom you’ve probably seen before, and they’re all absolutely terrific in this production.  Randy Moore isn’t just the Musical Director for this show;  he also plays Larry, the oft-neglected keyboard guy who doesn’t really get any lines, and doesn’t even get to be in the publicity photos (song: “Awkward Photo Shoot”).   With this group of local all-stars, it would be hard to go wrong.  It’s important for the actors in this show to have chemistry.  We need to believe they are the tight-knit group of pals they are portraying in order to care about them.  Otherwise [title of show] would be a total bore.  As you learn more about these people, you begin to feel an odd sort of comfiness.  I really felt like these were my friends, and I found myself rooting for this little show with a big heart the entire time.

 

 

The dialog starts off as being a bit too try-hard with cliché gay and sex jokes that feel forced.  As the play (and our understanding of the characters) develops, it becomes more real—and really quite funny!  The score is cute, witty, and at times truly moving.  The lighting design by Frank Kiraly makes the most of an intentionally simple set in brilliant and clever ways.

[title of show] explores the terrifying excitement of creating something new.  In the song “Change It, Don’t Change It”, our fab four begin to doubt the quality of their work and themselves.  Is their play really good enough for Broadway?  Are they good enough?  As Susan says, "Why is it that if a stranger came up to me on a subway platform and said these things, I'd think he was a mentally ill asshole... but when the vampire in my head says it, it's the voice of reason?"

If you have ever created anything, or thought of creating anything, this show will inspire you.  It will inspire you to finish that novel that’s been languishing in your desk drawer for over a year.  It will inspire you to write that screenplay that you don’t think will be clever enough.  It will inspire you to try out for that play.  It will inspire you to stop “procrasturbating” (as Hunter says), and put something new out into the world.

~ Jillian Owens

[title of show] runs on the Trustus Main Stage through December 16th, 2012. After the New Year, the show returns on January 3rd, 2013 and runs through January 12th, 2013. Main Stage shows start at 8:00pm Thursdays through Saturdays, and Sunday matinees are at 3:00pm. Tickets are $27.00 for adults, $25.00 for military and seniors, and $20.00 for students. Half-price Student Rush-Tickets are available 15 minutes prior to curtain.

Trustus Theatre is located at 520 Lady Street, behind the Gervais St. Publix. Parking is available on Lady St. and on Pulaski St. The Main Stage entrance is located on the Publix side of the building.

For more information or reservations call the box office Tuesdays through Saturdays 1-6 pm at 803-254-9732. Visit www.trustus.org for all show information and season information.