Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Bat Boy: The Musical is Bloody Good Fun
Also see Richard's review of Elaine Stritch At Liberty
Laurence O'Keefe, Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming's Bat Boy: The Musical has finally flown into the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto. TheatreWorks is presenting the Northern California premiere of the outrageous Off-Broadway musical that took New York by storm. The New York Times said "It's remarkable what intelligent wit can accomplish, even within an outlandish frame." The musical was awarded the Outer Critics Circle award for Best Off-Broadway Musical of 2001.
This marks the third time I have seen this campy, off the wall musical. I saw the pre-Off-Broadway run at the Actors' Gang Theater in Los Angeles in the fall of 1997. The commendable musical walked off with four Ovation Awards that year. I saw the Off-Broadway production at the Union Square Theatre in June 2001 and once again enjoyed the shenanigans of the small cast of ten actors. The current TheatreWorks production is just as good as the Off-Broadway production, and it actually plays better in this smaller theater.
Bat Boy: The Musical is a bravura piece of remarkable foolery. The fast paced musical is jam-packed with good songs, palpitating rhythms and campy dialogue. Laurence O'Keefe's upbeat score includes pop, rock, tango, gospel, country and even rap. Nothing is safe from the composer's dexterous mind.
Bat Boy: The Musical is based on an item in the rag sheet Weekly World News which said that a half boy/half bat creature had been discovered in a cave near Hope Falls, West Virginia. The plot opens with three teenaged cave explorers discovering a bat boy (Justin Greer) living among the bats of the cave. He looks like something out of Nosferatu. The good ol' boy sheriff (Eric Wenburg), unsure of what to do with the dangerous captive, decides to bring the boy to the home of Dr. Thomas Parker (David McDonald), the town vet. The townspeople clamor for the boy's destruction, since they believe he could be connected to a strange illness that is killing the local cows. The vet's wife Meredith (Heidi Blickenstaff) immediately has a maternal affection for the unfortunate boy and saves him from annihilation (and names him Edgar). The young daughter Shelley (Molly Bell) also takes a strong liking to the boy, and romance blooms in the hearts of these young teenagers.
The second act shows the cruelty of life, since the bat boy's homelife is taken away due to the jealousy of the vet and the growing romance between Shelley and Edgar, and the townsfolk are up in arms because of the mysterious death of young Ruthie Taylor (C. Kelly Wright) who was bitten by the bat boy.
Bat Boy mercilessly ribs the conventions of musical theater, and you can see parodies of very popular musicals like My Fair Lady, Rent, Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King. The opening number is a lampoon of Rent with lyrics like "hold me, Bat Boy/touch me Bat Boy/help me through the night" and the complete cast energetically sings in mud colored streetwear. The My Fair Lady scene is brilliant when the mother teaches the lad to act like a proper Englishman. The song "Show You a Thing or Two" is a wonderful takeoff of "The Rain In Spain." The bat boy goes from guttural sounds to a proper upmarket English accent, compliments of BBC tapes. The rousing showstopping song "A Joyful Noise" opens the second act and is sung with great gusto by James Monroe Iglehart playing the Rev. Hightower. (C. Kelly Wright will be playing the Rev. Hightower in selected performances.) The parody of the "Circle of Life" number is one of the show's funniest numbers. The stage is filled with the cast looking like downmarket stuffed animals, innocently rutting and moving about the stage and some doing "little dirty things" with each other. David Curley's performance is first rate as the lead singer Pan singing the wild and bombastic "Children, Children." His costume looks like it came from an AMT presentation of "Afternoon of a Fawn."
Justin Greer, Molly Bell, David McDonald, & Heidi Blickenstaff
The multi-talented cast is impressive, and they mesh like the inner workings of a clock. The performers, some of them playing as many as a half dozen roles, offer shining skills and a full range of active body movements. Justin Greer as Edgar the bat boy gives an emotionally charged and thoroughly realistic performance. He is compact yet muscular and pounces about the stage with astonishing athleticism. He squeals and shrieks before becoming the proper Edgar. His tenor voice is wonderfully displayed in his solo number, "Let Me Walk Among You." Heidi Blickenstaff is marvelous as the mother who lights up the show with protective warmness and the aggravation of being a housewife to her villainous husband. She gives a memorably vivid performance. Her beautifully fashioned "A Home for You" and her duet with Shelley in "Three Bedroom House" are knockouts. Molly Bell is endearing as the callow daughter and she exudes a compelling concern for the boy, which makes his transformation credible. These three make the musical work since they move and speak with straight faced seriousness no matter what the lyrics and lines are saying.
David McDonald as the husband and town vet is an excellent sycophantic villain. McDonald has good vocal chops in the lovely number "Dance With Me, Darling." Edward Juvier as Rick, the paramour, has a dynamic voice in his duet with Molly Bell in "Watcha Wanna Do." James Monroe Inglehart is outstanding not only as the Rev. Hightower but as Ruthie's mother when he sings the tender but vindictive "Ruthie's Lullaby." Eric Wenburg gives the sheriff a proper West Virginia mountain accent.
C. Kelly Wright, David Curley, Edward W. Juvier and Michelle Starrs create brightly impressive supporting roles, each playing men, women and animals - sometimes more than one at the same time.
The staging by Andrea Bechert is basically the same as the Off-Broadway production, which is a realistic construction of an abandoned coal mine with one very important addition to the plot. The designer has built a miniature full "slaughterhouse" at the rear of the stage that is pertinent to the plot in the second act. It is shown off to good effect.
The versatile six piece band under the direction of William Liberatore is very good. Linda Goodrich, who choreographed Everything's Ducky and directed and choreographed Smokey Joe's Café for Theatreworks, is pitch perfect as the choreographer and director. She keeps the rest of the cast busy with camp mugging and laborious onstage costume changes.
Bat Boy: The Musical runs thru August 10 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, Ca. For tickets call 650-903-6000 or visit www.theatreworks.org .
TheatreWorks' next production will be Joan Holden's Nickel and Dimed, Discovery of American, which opens at the Mountain View Center, on September 3rd.