Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Halloween in Dayton, Ohio, was a bit different this year due to multiple sightings of a creature of unknown origins. No, it wasn't some type of new monster roaming the streets for trick-or-treat, but rather Bat Boy: The Musical, which opened on October 31. The production by The Human Race Theatre Company effectively showcases the hip humor and memorable score that made the show an Off-Broadway cult hit in New York last year.
Bat Boy is loosely based on the character regularly featured in the tabloid Weekly World News. It's the story of a wild creature that appears to be part human/part bat and is captured by teens in a West Virginia mountain town. Bat Boy is turned over to local veterinarian Dr. Parker to be destroyed, but Mrs. Parker and daughter Shelley keep him and change "Edgar" from a wild animal into a well-spoken, highly educated member of the family. Edgar's struggle to gain approval from Dr. Parker and the townspeople, while also dealing with his unfamiliar feelings for Mrs. Parker and Shelley, is explored with both comedic and devastating consequences.
The book for the show by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming has its tongue planted firmly in cheek with hilarious results. Several well-known musicals, pop culture references, and aspects of rural life are skewered in parody. At the same time, the emotional moments within the show are also effectively written. With well-carved characters, laugh-out-loud funny jokes, and a surprise ending, the story easily overcomes some slight meandering in the second act to winningly tell a humorous tale of love, discrimination, and acceptance.
Laurence O'Keefe's top-notch pop influenced score consists of catchy melodies ranging from country flavored ensemble pieces to soaring solo anthems. The lyrics are likewise witty and humorous, while also conveying the seriousness of a few songs when appropriate. Musical highlights include "Comfort and Joy," "Let Me Walk Among You," and "Three Bedroom House."
The ten-member cast seems to be enjoying themselves and provides solid performances. As Bat Boy/Edgar, Patrick Garrigan sings well in the demanding lead role. Garrigan especially impresses when portraying the character's comedic awkwardness (reminiscent of Martin Short) and earnest desire to fit in. Betsy Delellio sings capably and is most effective in the tender moments as Shelley. The show's best performance comes from Leslie Becker as Mrs. (Meredith.) Parker. Her comical facial expressions, strong singing voice, and impeccable timing are great assets to the musical. Human Race regular Scott Stoney (Dr. Parker) provides a detailed and well-suited performance as usual. The remaining supporting cast members portray townspeople, with most of them filling multiple roles (including several as the opposite gender). Supplied with some of the musical's funniest moments, Tory Ross (hilarious in "Children, Children"), Juan-Carlos Diaz, Kevin Zepf, W. Jay Pierce (a hoot in drag), Dominic Bogart, and Lucia Spina each are able to display their wonderful talents and diversity.
Thanks to Director Kevin Moore, the piece is clearly presented and the difficult transitions inherent to the show are handled smoothly. The high camp aspects of Bat Boy are fully achieved but are staged to not distract from the material itself. There are times when the blocking results in having a performer's back to the audience when delivering dialogue or songs, but this never inhibits the communication of the script. The fun and bouncy choreography by Sharon Leahy and Moore is showcased in the opening number "Hold Me, Bat Boy," "Show You A Thing or Two," and "Another Dead Cow". Music Director Sean Michael Flowers leads a fine five-member band and creates a perfect balance between the musicians and the singers.
The artistically creative scenic design by David A. Centers uses the small stage space exceptionally well, and Mary Beth McLaughlin's costumes are attractive and appropriate. There is also necessarily busy and professionally rendered lighting by John Rensel. The sound by James Dunlap had a few glitches on opening night, but was otherwise crystal clear (and vastly superior to many area venues).
The Human Race Theatre Company's presentation of Bat Boy is to be applauded due to a uniformly strong ensemble and winning production values and direction. Dayton is one of the first cities outside of New York to present this in-demand show. Hopefully, non-regular theatergoers will join the supportive theater community here in embracing this Bat Boy and his off-center and hilarious story. The musical continues at the Loft Theater through November 17, 2002. For tickets, please call (937) 228-3630.