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Jon Oles, center, plays Ash in Randall Theatre's production of "Evil Dead: the Musical." Photo by Robin Downward

It's bloody, it's campy, it's 'Evil Dead'

“Evil Dead, the Musical” is a Halloween horror show that is a full-tilt, totally campy “Hairspray,” “Rocky Horror,” “Thriller,” “Chain Saw Massacre” mashup. Randall Theatre’s “Evil Dead” opened this weekend to a full and enthusiastic crowd that pelted popcorn and cackled wildly at every bad joke.

As the lights go up for “Evil Dead” on the Randall’s new stage, five teens sing a happy mix of romance and vacation, dancing all the while. Life and love seem perfect, out in the forest where they’re breaking into an isolated cabin for a weekend of sex and drinking. Despite the oh-so-happy start, there’s some discordant notes setting the scene for the bloodbath to come — that deep-woods location for one, a stranger’s cabin for another and David Alonso Rodriguez as Scott, who for no good reason screams imprecations and humps air.

A spooky basement, an old book and charms and spells quickly drive the plot into the ground, and one by one each of the teens is taken over by Candarian demons, the undead crying plaintively, “Join us! Join us!” until finally it’s only Jonathan Oles, in the role of Ash, a big box stock boy, who’s left to save humanity. Oles calls up his inner Belushi and is especially awesome when he saws off his own hand and later pushes the nub into a chain saw engine to better battle demons.

The first and greatest of the undead is Sophie Marilla Stricker in the role of Cheryl, who is most fearful and most sensitive. She succumbs easily to the spells and becomes a halting, hunched hag who hides offstage, emerging to taunt and jeer the living and egg on the undead. Stricker’s angst-ridden and anger-filled shrieks swirl out of the cellar, punctuated by slams of that cellar door.

Susie Gabumpa is delightful in the role of Annie, arriving late to save the day and swooning unto death immediately thereafter. Gabumpa’s not been on stage here in the Rogue Valley for a while and her return is overdue. Gabumpa’s acting is both coy and exaggerated, her gestures and glances oh-so-staged and poised, right-on cheesy for the role. Professionally, Gabumpa’s voice is superb and carries the vocal scenes, no mic needed for dialog and certainly not needed for the musical numbers.

“Evil Dead, the Musical” requires significant technical support to bring about the expected degree of horror. Gruesomeness isn’t limited to the human undead, as the entire set comes alive at times of greatest gore: the moose head talks, trees insinuate themselves into window blinds, refrigerator doors pound open and shut and even the light plates shudder in place. The full-on demon numbers “Do the Necronomicon” and “We Will Never Die” are deadfully thrilling, showcasing the work of choreographer Brianna Gowland and the stumbling talents of the cast.

Makeup and props are out of this world, and blood flies freely in the second act thanks to the work of Paula Waterbury and David Alonso Rodriguez. Those in the front three rows are sure to be soaked as limbs and heads are sawed off with chain saws, axes are buried deep into bellies and ropy intestines snake out. The undead, though, just keep coming, makeup intact due no doubt to the cosmetic attentions of Miranda Redhead.

Written and directed by Sam Raimi and produced by local celebrity Bruce Campbell, “Evil Dead” was first released as a cult horror film in 1981. Randall’s director, Beth Boulay, was on hand cheered the cast at every blood spray, clearly enjoying the dreadfulness she’d devised to celebrate the fall season. Boulay ably pulled a lot of acting and technical talent together to craft “Evil Dead.”

“Evil Dead” is Randall’s first production in its new space; the beam ceiling, brick walls and gracious curves are warm and inviting, seats are comfortable, the mobile risers work and so does the three-quarter-thrust staging. Work to fully develop the theater is still in progress, and in the future we may find that body mics even out the sound, a wall will shield the stage from the light of the concessions and steps will ease access to row D. These temporary shortcomings don’t overly distract and the new Randall Theatre experience is a good one.

As always at the Randall, the best seats in the house are raffled off and because in “Evil Dead” these are front and center, winners are sure to get drenched. Bring a poncho or pick one up at the door and enjoy Randall Theatre’s Halloween production of “Evil Dead, the Musical.”

“Evil Dead” continues in the Randall Theatre’s new Medford space at 20 S. Fir St. through Saturday. For tickets and more information, visit www.RandallTheatre.org or call the box office at 541-632-3258.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

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