‘Evil Dead’ kills in South Korea

Canadian adaptation a hit overseas

SEOUL — “Evil Dead: The Musical” may not have been a killer hit Off Broadway, but it’s slaying them in South Korea.

The campy Canadian musical based on Sam Raimi’s cult slasher films is packing them in at the Chungmu Art Hall Theater, where it opened March 19 and is scheduled to run through June 14.

According to lead producer Jeffrey Latimer, various representatives of the Japanese market are negotiating for the property, while a German production also has been signed for later this year.

Back in Toronto, where the musical gorefest began in 2003, the show reopened for the fifth time on Feb. 14 and has just been held over into summer.

So how does a show that failed commercially in Gotham manage to spin out a life halfway around the world?

There are a couple of explanations. One is the fact that Korea is, quite simply, crazy for musical theater.

“The passion for musicals in Korea is unbelievable,” says Adam Gentle, international licensing manager for the Broadway Asia Co. “There were 160 individual musical productions produced last year in Seoul. Our company alone grossed $28 million from this city in 2007.”

Walk the streets of this metropolis of 10 million and you find posters for everything from predictable imports like “Mamma Mia!” to totally unexpected ones like Cy Coleman’s 1997 hooker tuner “The Life.”

Quebecois musicals such as “Notre Dame de Paris” are also very big, with a Korean version of the Luc Plamondon hit making its third visit to the country.

“They usually love grand emotional musicals with plenty of spectacle,” suggests Gentle, who then laughs when asked to name the biggest hit ever in Korea.

“It’s ‘I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,’ ” he says, referring to the small-cast romantic comedy revue that also has been a long-running success in New York and other markets.

“That show’s been running here for five years, thanks to its universal themes,” Gentle explains. “Everyone can relate to it.”

But generally, as long as the music comes through loud and clear, the book doesn’t have to make total sense. “They did ‘Hairspray’ with an all-Korean cast here, with minimal attempts to differentiate between the blacks and whites, which is the heart of the show’s conflict,” Gentle says. “It was a big hit anyway.”

Han Saem Song is the independent Korean producer who mounted “Evil Dead: The Musical.”

He cleverly took the collegiate humor and broadly comic casting of the original and replaced it with a hot young Korean cast who sing and dance far better than their North American counterparts.

At times, it looks perilously close to “High School Musical,” but Song knew what he was doing.

“In Korea, 70% of the audience for most musicals are women,” he explains. “But we go even further. ‘Evil Dead’ has 90% women most nights, sometimes more.”

And so the femme-heavy crowd — most of them twentysomethings — fill the theater and scream their lungs out, but it’s more from hormones than horror.

Latimer and his two major partners, New York’s Bill Franzblau and Montreal’s Evi Regev from Just for Laughs, are thrilled at the response they’ve been getting.

“We’ve learned that there’s life beyond the Splatter Zone,” says Latimer, referring to the show’s first few rows, where gore splattered the audiences (supplied with protective raincoats) in Toronto and New York. In Seoul, the blood is played down considerably, but audiences don’t appear to mind.

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