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BWW Interview: Blood, Guts and Gore with EVIL DEAD's Daniel Williston

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Evil Dead the Musical is back in Toronto and bloodier than ever! The show opened last week to rave reviews, and audience members are flocking to the Randolph Theatre for a chance to experience this cult classic in all its gory glory. The show takes the cult classic film by the same name and adapts it for the stage, and Torontonians are excited to have the show back in its city.

The show had humble beginnings in August 2003 in the back room of The Tranzac Club, and returned to Toronto in 2007 at The Diesel Playhouse where it went on to become the longest running show the city had seen in over two decades and won the Dora Award for Audience Choice.

While there are original cast members returning for this new engagement (Ryan Ward and Alison Smyth) there are also a group of new people sinking their teeth into these iconic roles. One of those people is Daniel Williston, who sat down to talk to BWW about the Evil Dead experience so far, the show's history about (of course) all the blood and gore:

Congratulations on Evil Dead returning to Toronto! How has the reception been so far?

The reception has been fantastic! I was told Toronto loves this show, but I was trepidatious at first, it being so well received before and returning 5 years later and with some noobs in the cast. But the crowds have been welcoming and insanely loud and energetic; reviews have been pouring in all with very encouraging and kind words; and tickets have been selling like hot cakes with crowds packing into the Randolph. We've been working very hard and it's great to see that work being appreciated.

What would you say are the biggest changes between the show now and ten years ago?

Well, I didn't see the 2003 incarnation of the show, but I did see it playing at the Diesel Playhouse in 2008. We have a beautiful new set designed by Lindsay Anne Black which has been so fun to play on. We have reworked and nastier than ever blood effects courtesy of our tireless crew led by Chris Scott and Dan Sheard. Christopher Bond has returned to direct the show to which he gave birth, and he knows the animal so well now that he has wrung every last joke he can possibly get out of it. I've heard that this is the most intricate choreography in terms of dance (provided by the effervescent and relentless Stacy Maroske) and combat (by the badass of all badasses Kevin Robinson). Ryan Ward and Alison Smyth are returning to roles from past productions, but the rest of us in the cast are all new to the show, so I think that deep insight and new energy creates a taste that even if you've drunk from the well before, you're gonna wanna come back for more now. All the stuff people loved about the show is still here, but there's a bunch of new stuff to keep even the diehard fans guessing.

Why now and do you think the city is ready for more blood and gore?

I think now more than ever people are realizing musical theatre is a genre not just for the Old Guard. There's a time and place for Oklahoma! and Showboat, but with the success of shows like The Book of Mormon and Evil Dead: The Musical, I think a younger audience is realizing that this genre can speak to them. The comedy in this show is aimed at a demographic that doesn't necessarily seek out musicals or theatre with regularity. Hopefully those people will come take a chance and come see something that will take away all the "I went and saw Starlight Express once; musicals are just not for me." On the other hand, people who love musicals will, I think, find a freshness in there being a musical about this subject executed (no pun intended) with such irreverence to the genre it itself is operating within. This show doesn't take itself or the musical genre too seriously, and because of that, has a lot of comedy coming out of poking fun at the tropes of musicals as well as the tropes of the 80's horror flick. All of that to say it's a great time, and if you sit in the front row, you'll get soaked in blood. What more can you ask for in a night?

We hear that the infamous 'splatter zone' has been expanded and enhanced this year (complete with more blood) ... Just how bloody does a person get? And has anyone ever pranked you and thrown some blood back?

Haha! Well not YET! But now that you've put that out there in the world I'm gonna have to watch my back... Damned pranksters.

The blood has been expanded upon in this production. I think if you're deciding to revisit something, bigger and better is the way to go, and apparently our creative team agrees. People in the front row get pretty soaked. It really depends on the night and what happens, as something like blood is a bit of a loose cannon and hard to control. People in the audience also sometimes unknowingly make themselves a target. One night at a late show, a girl fell asleep in the front row of the splatter zone while Ash was hacking away at zombies, and got the worst of a blast of blood as a wake up. Let that be a lesson to those of you thinking this musical would be a great place to nap.

Were you a fan of the films? What is it about them that lends itself so well to stage?

I loved the films growing up. My parents wouldn't allow me to watch horror films young, so I had to hide my VHS copies of the ED trilogy in my chest-of-drawers. Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn was always my favourite. It scared the crap out of me when I was young, and then each subsequent time I would go back to watch it, I'd be laughing more and more at the ridiculousness of it all. Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi were gods to me. When I heard there was a musical, I knew I had to see it. It lends itself to stage because of the grandeur of the story. Especially in the sequels, there is an irreverence to the horror movie that makes for great comedy and massive melodrama (itself quite funny), and I think that same spirit translates perfectly to do it on stage and bursting into hilarious song. On stage you can get away with a lot more in terms of breaking the 4th wall, so I think it follows the lead of what the films were attempting to do (which was make a "fun" horror film) and keeps walking out on that limb about as far as one can go. It's an incredible balancing act, but one that this show has been doing since 2003.

Ryan Ward said in one of his interviews that Toronto audiences have been the wildest - do you find that to be true? It kind of goes against what we normally here in that Canadians are generally more 'reserved'...

Yeah. I don't know what the hell happens to all the "please and thank you's" I hear all day on the street, but once you put some college humor, crass innuendo, lunatic songs and Deadite carnage in front of these folks, they go ballistic. Throw a little blood on them and you've got a recipe for a riot on your hands. Thankfully they care what happens to our hero, so they quiet down enough for him to continue throwing out quips, because otherwise I'm not sure what we would do. It's been a real blessing for us to be able to feed off of the energy we are so generously given night after night from this city. It's a truly humbling experience. Makes you feel like you're a part of something that is absolutely working.

Finally, do you think this show is for the faint at heart? Do you encourage the squeamish or tell them to run far far away?

I ABSOLUTELY encourage the squeamish to come to the show! They're the ones who are gonna get the most out of all the horrific acts we are about to commit on demonkind! However, if you are faint of heart, you should probably just go see a doctor. That $&@# sounds serious.

When and Where?

Evil Dead the Musical

On stage now at the Randolph Theatre

Tickets range from $19.99 to $79.99 and can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 1-855-985-5000 or online at http://evildeadthemusical.com/toronto/tickets/.


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