All that plastic taped over the floor was the first indication that something weird was going on inside the theater.
No Name Players’ production of “Evil Dead: The Musical” will be different, all right. More a humorous homage to the 1981 film than a literal translation, it’s the story of college students who frolic at a cabin in the woods and manage to unleash unholy spirits.
There is singing and dancing. Also, demon possession.
"I think we’ve come up with something pretty special and nothing like anything anyone in Pittsburgh has ever seen,“ said No Name Players founder and artistic director Don DiGiulio, adding with a short laugh, ”I stand by that statement.“
No argument there. Opening tonight, Friday the 13th, at the Off The Wall Theater in Carnegie, ”Evil Dead: The Musical“ is shooting for as many laughs as frights. Director DiGiulio, working closely with Steve Tolin of Tolin FX, is taking the view that nothing succeeds like excess.
There will be (fake) blood, gallons of it. It’s not a gimmick that each audience member will be issued a rain poncho, although those who choose to sit in the designated ”Splatter Zone“ close to the stage are going to soak in more than culture.
"Don’t wear anything you don’t want to be destroyed,” Mr. DiGiulio said. “Even in the non-Splatter Zone, we can’t guarantee you won’t get a drop or two.”
Horror fans are familiar with the story of “Evil Dead,” which launched the careers of writer/director Sam Raimi and his childhood friend, actor Bruce Campbell. Featuring over-the-top gore but winks of humor, it was spawned in a bar in Toronto, grew up at a Montreal comedy festival and played for years off-off-Broadway.
The musical also draws from two “Evil Dead” sequels.
George Reinblatt (book, lyrics) and Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris and Mr. Reinblatt (music) are the original creative team. No Name Players’ Joseph P. Stamerra is music director for the local production, with choreography by Kaitlin Dann. David Bielewicz stars as Ash.
"How ’Evil Dead: The Musical’ has NOT been done yet in Pittsburgh blows my mind because this has been super fun“ Mr. Tolin said. ”I don’t think anyone had the bravado to do it.“
No Name Players is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that rents its theater space. It staged a one-month Kickstarter campaign to raise $6,660 (!) and topped that by more than $500. Special effects don’t come cheap.
Between 10 and 15 gallons of fake blood — thankfully, not as dense as the usual sticky stage stuff — will be mixed up for each of the nine performances. Mr. Tolin, who appeared as a contestant on Syfy’s excellent movie/FX reality show, ”Face Off,“ had to work out any number of logistical problems with Mr. DiGiulio and set designer Jesse Poole-Van Swol.
"It’s a good blood, an audience-friendly blood,” Mr. Pool-Van Swol said shortly before the first dress rehearsal Monday.
But anyone can sling blood, the trick is getting the lighting right, all the better to make it more visible. Among the other challenges: creating the effects of demon possession right on stage, as well as a few creative dismemberments.
Mr. Tolin has created a number of fake, severed hands with surprisingly realistic fingernails and two different styles of demonic silicon masks. Each mask took more than 40 hours to sculpt, with the help of Mr. Tolin’s colleague, Kyle Roberts.
"I am very much a proponent of ’Let’s just figure this out as we go along.’ I would have figured it out, but I’m sure glad Steve is figuring it out for me,“ Mr. DiGiulio said.
Without giving too much away, look for a set that includes a fun house’s worth of trapdoor surprises. There also is a huge stuffed moose head puppet listed as a character in the program, thanks to Andrew Hosmer, a professor of entertainment design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
The glee with which Mr. DiGiulio and Mr. Tolin discussed what should have been another exhausting night of tech week was infectious, not unlike the demons that make such a mess of things.
"Just this year, I have done about 25 shows and this is by far the most enjoyable,” Mr. Poole-Van Swol said. “It’s like summer camp and I think the audience will get that vibe, too.”
Maria Sciullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.