Musings from Ed on this year’s Jeff Nominations for Black Button Eyes: Evil Dead the Musical

This is the second blog post I’ve written with some thoughts on the Jeff Nominations Black Button Eyes Productions received for the 2019-2020 season- this post is focused on Evil Dead the Musical. To read the post about Nightmares & Nightcaps, check out my previous post!

Best Performer in a Principal Role- Musical (Jordan Dell Harris as Ash) Jordan joined the Evil Dead team a lot later than most, but he was a terrific find. A lot of the reviews we got pointed out that he has more than a passing resemblance to Bruce Campbell, the actor who originated the character of Ash in the original Evil Dead movies. What Jordan brought to this role, however, was far more just a physical similarity. He also brought a stellar tenor voice, dynamic and committed physicality, and ace comedic instincts that helped make the musical really shine. Spending nearly the entirety of the piece onstage, Jordan finished each performance drenched in fake blood, sweat, and other unmentionables and gave 100% to the audience at every show

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Best Performer in a Supporting Role- Musical (Caitlin Jackson as Cheryl)

Caitlin is a frequent Black Button Eyes collaborator and in my mind is the perfect actress to play Cheryl. With both an adamantium belt singing voice and absolutely killer comedic skills, she walked away with nearly every scene she was in, especially once Cheryl became possessed by demons, got locked away in the cellar, and kept popping up like an evil jack-in-the-box (or like someone on Laugh-In) to slay the audience with jokes and puns. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to unite a great actress with a role they utterly nailed the way Caitlin did this part.

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Best Performer in a Supporting Role- Musical (Stevie Love as Shelly/ Annie)

Having seen Stevie delivering comedy gold many times in productions with Hell in a Handbag Productions, I was delighted to be able to bring them on board for this production. In particular I knew that the roles of Shelly and Annie in particular present unique challenges; they are written in a way that can make their scenes deeply problematic unless they can be used by a skilled comedian to skewer certain stereotypes. Stevie is a master at playing these types of roles in a way that is terribly funny, criticizes the stereotypes involved, and never feels mean spirited. It’s a credit to Stevie that both these two roles and the show overall worked as well as they did.

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Best Choreography (Derek Van Barham)

It’s hard to understate how valuable it’s been to have Derek to collaborate with on every single Black Button Eyes show, including Evil Dead the Musical. Establishing a meaningful movement vocabulary and helping to enhance moment with dance have made him an important component of every piece we’ve ever done at Black Button Eyes. That said, Derek had a unique chance to shine on Evil Dead the Musical, which was much, much more dance heavy than previous shows with the company. Whether it was making sure the tango between Ash and Scott in act one was hilarious and skillful without indulging in gay panic jokes, or helping completely burn the house down during the act two song “Do the Necronomicon”

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Best Director- Musical (Ed Rutherford)

….and then there’s me. I will say that I’m extremely proud of what I accomplished with this piece. I went into this process very aware of how the previous touring production had been received, and I was determined to come up with a version that would be more warmly regarded locally. Part of that was some very thoughtful decisions about casting, how we would approach particular moments (i.e. the “Tree Scene” where Cheryl is attacked, for those of you who are familiar), and constant effort in rehearsal to give the characters (especially the femme-presenting ones!) as much agency and emotional truth as allowed by the text. I love the piece because I grew up on the Evil Dead film series and enjoy any theater piece that has fantastical elements like demons and magic, and while not a perfect work, I thought Evil Dead the Musical deserved better than it got, the last time it was in Chicago. I’m glad I was able to oversee a production that succeeded in these aims, and grateful that I got so many amazing artists together in the room to make it happen.