All the men in Merced keep getting killed by Candarian demons

Well, perhaps not every man. But the ones in Playhouse Merced’s jaunty “Evil Dead: The Musical” are possessed by supernatural fun. (The women, too)

THEATER REVIEW

If you’re a musical-theater fan, you understand when I say that sometimes a particular song from a show simply makes you happy. Often there’s no rhyme nor reason as to why this is so: It could be the lyrics, the tempo, even just the way the harmonies arrange themselves into a pleasing chordal resolution. When the mood strikes, I can listen to it on repeat for longer than I’d like to admit.

Confession time: One of those songs for me is “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons” from “Evil Dead: The Musical.”

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Chainsaw massacre: Aaron Kohlhoff and Bridget Mitchell in “Evil Dead: The Musical.” Photo / Playhouse Merced

As a guilty pleasure, it makes me smile every single time.

When I found out that Playhouse Merced was presenting “Evil Dead” — which I’ve never seen live — I knew one thing: I’d be there opening night.

The musical, which has been around for 10 years and is based on the Sam Raimi films, is everything I thought it would be: silly, outrageous, utterly profane, gushing with blood, and not suitable for your Great Aunt Evelyn who was raised Presbyterian but now goes to that nice big evangelical church around the corner. There are strengths and weaknesses: The Merced production has some of the characteristics of a hard-to-cast community-theater production, with some very good performances and production values, and others maybe not so much. (Including some uneven acting.) Too many vocals were hard to understand because of balance issues with the fine live band. And the show’s storyline itself can get a little fussy and bloated, especially in the second act, something I didn’t discover until I actually saw the live production.

But overall, I really enjoyed myself.

Here are 5 things I like about the production:

1. The comic enthusiasm of the cast.

This is a show that requires a distinctive skill set: You have to sing, dance, tell really bad jokes, make even worse puns, scream a lot and use a chainsaw in a manner that would surely void the manufacturer’s warranty.

The writing isn’t exactly in the Jane Austen fine-literature mode — though wouldn’t that be a scream, adding a decapitation scene to “Sense and Sensibility”? — but I’ll give a quick rundown of the plot: We meet five rather unremarkable college students hoping for a cheap spring-break vacation by squatting in an abandoned cabin deep in the woods. Unfortunately, said cabin is the netherworldly nexus for a bunch of demons, and as each student is picked off and his or her soul dispatched to the dark side, the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

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Tree danger: Madison Mitchell in the woods in “Evil Dead: The Musical.” Photo / Playhouse Merced

Throughout, I like the energy and total cheesy dedication that the actors bring to their roles. A good example: Aaron Kohlhoff as Ash, the sorta hero of the show, who works at a generic department store called S-Mart, which even gets its own song, titled “Housewares Employee.” (Kohlhoff is a little older than you’d expect for a spring-break partier; he represents the reentry-student demographic of the college population, I’m guessing.) If his sweat equity in the show could be converted to cash, he’d be rich.

2. The ingenuity of director Joseph Hypes.

Asked to create a bevy of special effects and challenging settings — including but not limited to: a talking/singing possessed moose; killer enchanted trees; kinetic kitchen appliances; a bloody stump minus a hand; and a dance line of demons — Hypes consistently finds clever (and cleverly low-budget) ways to spray laughs and gore.

The lighting design (by Chris Battisti and Drew Guerrero) and scenic design (by Hypes and Corey Strauss) is nimble and inventive. And if a stage manager ever deserves a special shout-out, it’d be Paul Wegner for this wild show.

3. The Splatter Zone.

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Splatter Zone: A patron — who presumably declined the use of a poncho — is shown after the opening night performance. Photo / The Munro Review

Go ahead, grab a poncho and get covered in blood. I did not partake of this experience, mostly because I hate getting my glasses dirty, but the sold-out crowd seemed to enjoy their multiple hemoglobin showers. (Extra points to the cast for their dexterity with those red plastic squeezable catsup bottles.) At intermission, ushers quickly set up one of those yellow janitorial “caution” signs warning of wet floors. That is not often a sight you see in a theater.

4. The goofy acting.

Three performances stand out for me: Enrique Vega (nice vocals and a subversive stage presence) opening weekend as “good old reliable” Jake, who pops up midway through the show as an annoying local yokel; Madison Mitchell (very funny, and a good dancer and choreographer), the geeky little sister whose segue into demonhood turns her into Atilla the Pun; and Bridget Mitchell (so over-the-top in her acting that you’ll either grin or grimace) as Annie, a brash big mouth whose family owns the haunted cabin — and who keeps losing the men in her life, along with most of her clothing.

5. Most important: the big song.

Which leads me to “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons,” which Bridget Mitchell belts out accompanied by Kohlhoff and Vega as doo-wop backup singers. Let’s join the tune in progress:

All my college boyfriends and my one-night stands
My male co-workers and platonic gay friends
(Men: Hey?!)
Every date I go on ends in demon bloodshed
And now that I met you two guys, I know you’ll soon be dead

Men: What the f—

They say love is cruel
(Men: Ship-shoo-wah)
And I believe them
(Men: Ship-shoo-wah)
My heart’s always broken
Cause the men in my life
And I mean ALL the men in my life
Every single man in my life
Keeps getting killed …
by Candarian demons

Ahem. Got carried away there. Sometimes you get into a show and a song — you know what I mean?

Loved it.

Bonus: Mart synergy

As I write this review, I check Facebook for name spellings and info on the actors, all of whom I haven’t seen before. And there I stumble upon a glorious coincidence that is no doubt the talk of the Merced theater scene: Kohlhoff works as the manager of digital marketing at — get this — SaveMart. No wonder he’s so passionate when he sings, “Well I told you I could kill these demons and none of you believe me / That’s why you’re merely customers and I’m the S-Mart employee.”

In “Evil Dead,” corporate employment imitates life and art. With a few severed limbs thrown in for fun, of course.


Show info

“Evil Dead: The Musical,” continues 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, Friday, Oct. 27, Saturday, Oct. 28; and a special final performance 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31. Playhouse Merced, 452 W. Main St., Merced.


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Author: Donald Munro

Covering the arts in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

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