By Aj McDowel
He stands in a cabin in the woods, sad and angry, knowing what he must do. With a pile of bodies in the corner – his sister’s and best friend’s corpses among them – he raises a chainsaw above his head and begins to cut into his girlfriend’s decapitated, demonically possessed head. Blood gushes and spits; a stream nearly reaches the ceiling. And then, suddenly, the curtain descends for a twenty minute intermission.
He’s not a killer; he’s Ryan Ward, a Ryerson Theatre School graduate who portrays Bruce Campbell’s iconic role of Ash in Evil Dead: The Musical, where the chainsaw is loud and the blood flows plentifully.
The show – which is running now at the Randolph Theatre – has made its way across North America from humble beginnings in Toronto. The musical is based off Sam Rami’s Evil Dead franchise and pulls themes from all three of the 1980s movies with a dash of tunes and some groovy dance numbers.
For the 10 years it’s been running, the production’s sets have changed, its lines have shifted around, its musical numbers have altered and its blood spray quality has improved. But Ward, a member of the original cast, remembers the show’s first run in the back room of Toronto’s Tranzac club. Well, at least it was supposed to be in the back room.
“It was during the northeast blackout [in 2003], so we had no power,” says Ward. “We unscrewed the set and set it up on the lawn out front. There were people in the trees with flashlights and a band – some of them weren’t even really in the band – with the bass player conducting.”
About 300 people attended the impromptu show.
“They wanted to see it,” he says. “They wanted to see anything.”
During the musical’s run, Ward has also broken into film with a series of shorts and made-for TV movies. His most notable creation came in 2009 – his directorial debut in Son of the Sunshine, the story of a young man with Tourette Syndrome. Ward also co-wrote and starred in the film. The role earned him a Genie Award nomination.
“A movie set is like a hurricane and the director is the eye of the storm. There were so many people coming to me for so many reasons,” says Ward. “And I was acting in it, so the other actors wanted to rehearse their parts. So, I had to do that, production and the musical.”
Ward had been working on the film since university, when he would write and tour plays for festivals. “I was always kind of building up to my own piece.” Feeling adventurous? Sit in the front-row “splatter zone” and become a part of the show. Don’t worry – they sell rain ponchos before the show.
Evil Dead: The Musical runs until Dec. 22.