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Kirsten Chervenak as Linda and Taylor Tackett as Ash in "Evil Dead: The Musical"

Because of my former position as Associate Producer/Theater Critic at Metromix.com and my current position as a critic/consultant for the Theatre Roundtable of Central Ohio, I have the unique pleasure of seeing lots of community and professional theater in the fine state of Ohio for free. So why not share the love with my readers at Queer Corner? Every week the Local Theater Spotlight will feature a review from a show currently running in Central Ohio. Because, let’s face it, we queers love us some theater!

Step aside Actors’ Theatre. Dark Woods Theatre Company’s tricked out staging of “Evil Dead the Musical” out in Ostrander has definitely thrown down the gauntlet in the category of top notch outdoor theater in Central Ohio.

A second dose of Candarian demons (CATCO is also staging “Evil Dead” this summer, a showcase that just got an extension through July 23) abound just 45 minutes up the road as Dark Wood’s talented and age-appropriate cast hilariously bebop through George Reinblatt, Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond and Melissa Morris’ rock-disco score.

For the still uninitiated, “Evil Dead” follows five unlucky college kids on Spring Break as they battle a haunted area of woods outside a cabin they’ve broken into. Each takes turns transforming into a Candarian demon (“Look Who’s Evil Now”), except our formidable hero, Ash (Taylor Tackett), a vapid S-Mart employee who trades his hand for a chainsaw by the bloody curtain call. And, unlike CATCO’s production, no seat is safe from the “Splatter Zone.”

Dark Woods (a subsidiary of the Backstage Investments Group, which also includes Center Stage Players, Drawing Room Theatre and Act Five Players) went well beyond the call of duty and not only provide the needed blood splashing special effects, but erected an entirely new outdoor theater for the performance. (The troupe also stages “The Legend of Saran,” an annual outdoors haunted theater show during the Halloween season.) A clearly lit, mulched path leads from a fully stocked concession stand through a wooded area to a cleared out intimate stage and seating space.

The night sky and wind-ruffling greenery definitely add a new layer of fright when Ash reassures his sister (Ashley Blankenship) that there’s nothing to fear in an old abandoned cabin in the woods. This, paired with technician William Lowry Jr.’s red/blue-toned lighting schemes, ominous sounds and special effects (all orchestrated by director Michael Manter) make this show must-see theater.

The cast also rises to the occasion, led by Tackett as Ash, who refused to shy away from the physical humor, at one point throwing himself violently about the stage when Ash’s hand becomes possessed. Alan Saunders hits a spot-on mix of sarcasm and parody as Ash’s chauvinistic Neanderthal of a best friend, Scott, a theme that spread through much of the cast who all perfectly embodied the play’s original making-fun-of-itself intent.

Kirsten Chervenak shines as Linda (hero love interest No. 1). Her pitch perfect vocals add equal parts swoon and lunacy to love ballad “Housewares Employee.” Cassie Gress takes on double duties as the ditzy Shelly and the overly dramatic Annie (hero love interest No. 2). Her hysterics paired with backup singer/dancers Tackett and Jim Bouyack (as Jake the trustworthy wanderer) is a scene-stealer during “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons.”

The show’s only misstep was “Do the Necronomicon.” Choreographer Charley Borden tries to go for a typical full-cast, ensemble dance scene for the “Time Warp”-esque number, but the small stage made the segment look cramped.

But despite a few minor errors, Dark Wood’s has created a revolutionary outdoor theater experience with “Evil Dead.” So grab a car-full of friends, a dingy white t-shirt and a bottle of bug spray (don’t worry they’ve got some if you forget yours) and head out to Ostrander for scary fun under the sunset. And it’s been rumored that this may be the beginning of another annual Dark Woods showcase. Yes please.

Dark Woods Theatre Company’s “Evil Dead the Musical” runs through Aug. 13 at their outdoor theatre in Ostrander (4482 Stover Road). Tickets are $17. Call 866-250-4832 or visit LegendofSaran.com for more information.

~This post is courtesy of CentralOhioTheatreRoundtable.org

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