Few stage musicals feature decapitations, demon possession and a protagonist with a chainsaw for a hand. Fewer still feature all of that and a singing moose head.
McDaniel College's Main Stage Theatre series is presenting "Evil Dead: The Musical" based on director Sam Raimi's horror-comedy film trilogy starting Wednesday, April 16. The show follows college student Ash Williams, portrayed by McDaniel freshman Jehan Silva, and his four friends as they rent a cabin in the woods, discover an ancient book of the dead and awaken evil spirits and demons.
Director Gene Fouche said though the show combines plot elements from all three "Evil Dead" films, tonally it has more in common with the tongue-in-cheek sequels than the grim original.
"I'm not really a horror film kind of person, but this is more my speed," Fouche said. "I like the style of the quirk, and I like rock musicals."
Jehan Silva plays Ash, who has to fend off an onslaught of his possessed friends. Silva, a freshman theater major, said the horror elements of the show were largely outside of his comfort zone as an actor.
"I got involved in theater in [Poolesville] High School in my sophomore year, but usually everything was PG and family friendly," Silva said. "I'm a fan of the classical musical theater like 'Les Mis' and this is a completely different experience."
In addition to the mature content, Silva said he was also surprised by the intensity of rehearsals. From the beginning of practice to opening day, the cast and crew had just three weeks to put the entire show together.
"We work every day for four hours, on top of school work and keeping my grades up. It's a lot to manage," Silva said. "We go into a lot more depth into the characters than I'm used to, especially in a show where you would expect character development to take a back seat."
Senior Kelsey Gondek portrays Cheryl, Ash's younger sister, and the first of the group to be possessed after running into the woods. Gondek said she's had experience playing high-energy characters before, but never ones with the level of malevolence the possessed Cheryl displays.
"Cheryl is the closest I've come to playing a villain. It's fun. It's a riot. There's not a whole lot of plays where you get to have zombies everywhere and severed heads," Gondek said. "People keep asking if this is a scary play. It's not scary. The movie's a horror movie, and this is almost making fun of the genre, which is what makes it interesting to me."
Part of adapting a series of films known for their gross-out factor includes finding a way to translate the gore and effects to a live performance.
Halfway through the show, Ash's hand is possessed by demons, so he lops it off at the wrist and affixes a chainsaw to the stump. Fouche said one of the hardest special effects to figure out was rigging the chainsaw to spray blood while Ash defends himself from the possessed. The other major effects of the show are accomplished through a combination of make up, character masks and blood packs.
Fouche said the cast and crew had a screening of "The Evil Dead" before practice began, but the film's iconic stature among horror fans hasn't affected her take on the material.
"It's been kind of fun picking little character choices and seeing the actors pick character moments they've seen from the films," Fouche said. "I don't really feel indebted to the film at all. This is its own being. I don't in any way, shape or form feel we need to stick to that."
Gondek said the musical doesn't feature wall-to-wall music, but the songs the show features are catchy, clever and humorous. Songs in the show include "Evil Trees," "Ode to an Accidental Stabbing" and "All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons."