PMT’s ‘Evil Dead: The Musical,’ successfully revived again


Image via Pittsburgh Musicals, by Matt Polk

The cast of Evil Dead: The Musical perform on stage.

By Toni Jackson, Staff Writer

At Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s production of “Evil Dead: The Musical,” many audience members come dressed in all white, hoping that the blood splatter sprayed at them from the stage will serve as a memento. The first six rows of seating at West End Canopy are the “splatter zone,” designated for audience members who don’t mind getting wet whether from water or fake blood.

Brett Goodnack, who plays Ash, is reprising his role from PMT’s 2018 and 2019 productions of the musical. He said a highlight of the show is the use of fake blood, because the actors get to interact with the audience. 

“The amount of cool stage tricks and things we do to employ the use of this gratuitous amount of fake blood is awesome. It’s equal parts a theatrical performance and an amusement park ride … I don’t think any other show can boast that. It’s such a unique experience,” Goodnack said. 

The two-act musical, based on the three movies in the Evil Dead franchise, centers on five college students who travel to a secluded cabin in the woods and read a mysterious book, accidentally releasing demons that plan to take over the world. 

The West End Canopy is around a 30-minute bus ride from Pitt’s campus on the 71 and 29 lines. As the title suggests, the venue is an outdoor canopy with folding chairs. There are showings every Friday and Saturday night through Oct. 22.

Image via Pittsburgh Musicals, by Matt Polk

During a showing on Saturday night, audience members sat in the cold, but once the show began there wasn’t a sense of any discomfort. Because the stage is only a few inches off the ground, though, some audience members past the eighth row had an obstructed view.

Laura Barletta, who plays Cheryl, is also reprising her role from the previous PMT productions of “Evil Dead.” Barletta said the new production gives her and Goodnack a chance to tweak their characters by adding details that they thought of over time. 

“[There are] little different pieces of comedy that I’m adding this time that I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll rewrite this.’ We are able to improv, especially my part. I pop out of the cellar and do all kinds of puns … I’ve added some different puns that I’ve thought of the last couple of years,” Barletta said. 

Director Nick Mitchell is also returning from PMT’s previous “Evil Dead” run. He said the production’s unusual venue and lower budget feels like an advantage rather than a hindrance.  

“I love that we’re not all high-tech … My style of this show is ‘have fun.’ When you’re squirting with blood, show them that it’s coming. Tease them a little bit. Use a 99-cent water gun to make it happen,” Mitchell said. “You don’t need a motor to make these things run. Make them human-powered. Make the actors part of it, and include the audience in the fun.”

Mitchell added that the audience is the main priority in theatrical performances. 

“There’s a danger… of actors having more fun than the audience, and that’s something that I always watch out for because it’s a symbiotic relationship,” Mitchell said. “Both sides have to be having a good time. If only one side is, there’s something wrong with the show.” 

Throughout the musical, audience members shout iconic lines along with the actors. On-the-nose line deliveries of pop culture references added to the energy of the audience. The cast also recreated certain iconic scenes live, such as each character’s possession, or the main character, Ash, cutting off his hand

Although the franchise has a cult following, Barletta emphasizes that prior knowledge of the film is not necessary to see the show.

“Those that haven’t seen ‘Evil Dead’ might be hesitant to come because sometimes people think ‘Oh, I don’t know the movie,’ but you don’t have to see the movie to get really engaged with it and to appreciate [the musical],” Barletta said. 

Like Barletta, Goodnack believes that the musical’s songs and camp, over-the-top humor will appeal to both musical theater fans and those who are skeptical about musicals. 

“If you’re a fan of horror movies or fake blood or on-stage stunts, it has it all,” Goodnack said. “It does everything with a nudge and a wink and it’s a good time. It’s as fun for the audience as it is for us up on stage.”