‘Evil’ makes a killing

Horror musical finding love in Toronto

TORONTO — Yes, even Candarian Demons can come back from the grave.When “Evil Dead: The Musical” closed Off Broadway Feb. 17 after a disappointing run of 126 performances, most people thought that would be the end of it.

But its current Toronto engagement is proving box office dynamite, with a raft of international productions now in the works, demonstrating that — theatrically speaking — sometimes the dead can rise again.

The spoofy, blood-soaked tuner based on Sam Raimi’s 1980s slasher pics began in summer 2003 in Toronto’s seedy Tranzac Club, the creation of recent grads from Queens U. in Kingston.

It proved popular enough during three short Toronto runs and went on to success at Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival in 2004. But it failed to make much of a killing in Gotham when it opened at New World Stages in November 2006.

Reviews were mixed, with most of them concentrating on the gory special effects, the collegiate humor and the “Rocky Horror Show”-style audience participation the piece aimed for. (Folks in designated “splatter zones” were supplied with protective plastic ponchos.)

Somehow, the hoped-for crowds of cultish fans didn’t materialize, and the show never really registered on the city’s pop-culture radar.

“We were a small fish in a massive pond, and it was hard to get anyone’s attention with so many quality shows playing around us,” is how producer Jeffrey Latimer explains the situation.

Latimer and his partners (Bill Franzblau and the Just for Laughs team of Bruce Hills and Eviatar R. Regev) were momentarily dismayed by the show’s response. “After New York, we didn’t know whether or not we could tour it anywhere,” confesses Latimer.

But they had one ace up their sleeve: a theater in Toronto that was perfect for the show and wanted it back. The Diesel Playhouse is a 408-seat venue in the heart of the city’s entertainment district, which until 2005 was the home of Second City.

Latimer brought the show home, remounting the Off Broadway production (including sets by David Gallo and choreography by Hinton Battle) with an all-Canadian cast. It opened May 8 to unanimous raves from the city’s often-crusty critics and has been selling out ever since.

The show just announced its third and final extension through Sept. 8, at which point it has to close, because of an incoming production of “Jewtopia,” for which no other appropriate theater is available.

But that’s not the end of the road. Latimer has just signed an agreement with Broadway Asia to open the musical in Seoul in March 2008, and final negotiations are in process for other productions in Tokyo, Germany, Scandinavia and Australia.

A Canadian tour is a strong possibility, and Latimer also is looking at launching the show in several midsize American cities “with strong college populations.”

The tuner has been playing best with the 25-54 demographic, and Latimer notes, “We’re getting mainstream theatergoers as well as the younger crowd out for a good time.”

So it seems that just like its hero, Ash, who hacks his way through an army of zombies with a chainsaw, “Evil Dead: The Musical” has one vital ingredient necessary for long-term survival: staying power.

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