Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Bat Boy Flies into San Francisco
Just in time for the Halloween season, Laurence O'Keeefe, Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming's Bat Boy: The Musical makes an appearance on the Victoria Theatre stage in the Mission district of San Francisco. This time the misunderstood young bat boy is played by the talented Eli Newsom who makes the role his own in the Ray of Light Theatre production. This marks the fourth time (twice with the original Deven May in Los Angeles and New York) I have seen this unique musical.
Director James Monroe Inglehart (played Reverend Hightower in the TheatreWorks production) helms this campy version of the musical. It's played for laughs; the serious message about bigotry and intolerance seems lost in this production. Many of the actors go over the top in some of the characterizations. However, these are young actors just starting out in the business, and they are having fun on the stage of the Victoria.
Bat Boy: the Musical is My Fair Lady meets The Rocky Horror Show with the action taking place in a small town in West Virginia where nothing ever happens. A group of teenagers discover a half-boy/half-bat (Eli Newsom) living among the creatures in a cave. They bag the frightened boy and take him to the local sheriff (Dale Murphy), who takes him to local veterinarian Thomas Parker (Gregory Tittle) since there is more bat than boy in this kid. The vet's wife Meredith (Leanne Borghesi) takes a liking to the terrified being and believes she can civilize him to be a proper upstanding person. The husband is not too thrilled about the prospect, and he does some dastardly deeds during the production. Daughter Shelley (Christy McIntosh) becomes very fond of the boy as he becomes more and more human (with a Masterpiece Theatre accent). Rick Taylor (Christopher Cobb) becomes jealous and seeks vengeance on the boy who has become almost human.
The townspeople are not all that sure of him because he is different from the rest of the "respectable folks." They accuse him of everything, including some mysterious deaths and some cows that won't eat. Even the traveling brimstone and hellfire Rev. Billy Hightower (DaRon Lamar Williams) can't save him from the prejudice of the town. Things all come together in the second act, which is straight out of the last scene of Shakespeare's Hamlet with a tragic conclusion for the family.
This production is uneven, and on opening night the four-piece orchestra (with a Gene Krupa type drummer who was much too loud) drowned out all of the opening chorus lyrics to "Hold Me, Bat Boy" and "Christian Charity." Unfortunately, there is no pit for the group and they play almost directly in front of the left side of the small theatre. They seem to be playing their own version of the musical.
Director Inglehart has made some changes. The beautiful waltz "Dance With Me, Darling," sung by Gregory A. Tittle and Leanne Borghesi, becomes a burlesque number with Mr. Tittle doing a Paul Lynde style of acting as the veterinarian. Ms. Borghesi rises above this and comes on strong with a slight hint of humor. Inglehart made some very clever changes in the second act by showing on film the attack of the bats when Meredith Parker (Ashley Rockwood) was a young girl and a great shadow show depicting the birth of Bat Boy. The director gives the production a fast paced presentation with a few blackouts in the second act to change scenes.
The sound system was very poor on opening night. Sometimes the sound became so loud that the voices of Ms. Borghesi and Ms. Christy McIntosh became piercing. There were times when the mike was cut off, especially in Eli Newson's clever song during the "pouring of tea" scene. The wonderful lyrics could not be heard in the small theatre. Hopefully, these problems were solved after the opening night.
Eli Newsom (directed ROLT productions of Honk!, Wizard of Oz, Joseph last season and played in Side Show and Everything's Ducky at TheatreWorks) is outstanding as the diminutive, lithe Bat Boy with shaven head and pointy bat ears, making you believe with his silliness that he is part man and part bat. He even does a great tap number in the first act. He has a fine voice, especially in the second act number about wanting to be accepted. This is an agile bat boy who dominates the stage.
Leanne Borghesi (back from a three year jaunt as a cabaret singer) as Meredith Parker gives a nice performance, showing humor without going overboard. She sings a beautiful rendition of "Home for You" in the first act and both she Christy McIntosh (Snow White for three years in Beach Blanket Babylon) as her daughter blend perfectly in the duet, "Three Bedroom House."
Gregory A. Tittle (recently played the role of Father in Ragtime at Broadway by the Bay) has an excellent voice and gives a good performance as the evil doctor straight out of a Universal horror film. He leaves Paul Lynde behind in the second act. Chris Yorro comes into the limelight playing an over the top, fey Pan in the dream sequence. He really camps it up by sashaying outrageously all over the stage.
DaRon Lamar Williams (Ragtime at Broadway by the Bay) brings down the house as the wild Rev. Billy Hightower with "A Joyful Noise" opening the second act. He's like Little Richard in his singing and dancing. It's a great, high energy performance. Dale Murphy (many of ROLT productions) makes a perfect West Virginia county sheriff. Christopher Cobb (Beach Blanket Babylon) as the jealous Rick Taylor really gets into the role with his violent looks that carry on even when he is taking his bows at the end of the musical. He comes over with a strong voice in his rock number.
Jessica Coker, Lance Fuller, Kehinde Koyejo, David Mugglebee, Soila Munoz, Ashley Rockwood, Justin Weatherby are effective in their small roles.
Bat Boy: the Musical plays at the Victoria Theatre at 16th Street and Mission, San Francisco through November 6th. For tickets call 1-800-838-3006, visit www.roltheatre.com or the TIX Bay Area booth at Union Square.
ROLT future productions are A Lil' Bit In Love - Love Songs of Broadway this February at the Phoenix Theatre and their summer production of Seussical the Musical.