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Central Florida by Matthew MacDermid

Hippodrome's Bat Boy Shines with Explosive Energy

Bat Boy: The Musical flew onto the Off Broadway scene in March of 2001 and closed in December of 2001, leaving a cult following for the energetic new musical.  Bat Boy has a quirky, comedic, and occasionally heartwarming book by Keythe Farley and Brian Fleming and an exciting, tuneful score by Laurence O'Keefe. The musical, based on sightings of a mysterious "bat child" reported by tabloid newspapers, is sheer fun from start to finish - and the Lauren Caldwell production at the Hippodrome State Theatre in Gainesville is an explosive production offering a terrific cast and definitive staging.

The story of Bat Boy: The Musical takes place in the small mountain-side town of Hope Falls, West Virginia.  A group of teenagers discover the Bat Boy in a cave far below surface and, after a bit of jeering, are introduced to the boy's bat-like abilities when one of them is bitten.  The kids bring the boy back to town with them, hoping the creature will be destroyed.  Fortunately for the musical's plot, the town sheriff delivers him to the local veterinarian, whose family takes an instant liking to the boy and decides to "tame" him for civilization.  The humor of the story continues at breakneck speed as the boy becomes more human with bat-like tendencies, and the town of Hope Falls reacts - negatively, positively, and then negatively again - with one man's bitterness and reproachfulness at the center of it all.

Bat Boy: The Musical
The company sings the opening number "Hold Me, Bat Boy"

The Hippodrome company doesn't have a weak link in it.  Chad Hudson's Bat Boy is an awesome display of physicality and voice as he nimbly struts and climbs about the stage and delivers musical numbers with a terrific tenor voice.  As Shelley Parker, the young girl who comes closest to Bat Boy, Diana Preisler is a charming breath of fresh air with a youthful exuberance that is difficult to match.  But Catherine Fries Vaughn and Daniel Siford as Meredith and Thomas Parker make the show what it is; both performers exhilarate the audience with their dead-on portrayals and magnificent vocal performances.  Vaughn is a funny, touching, and compassionate Meredith, underplaying the comedy and making it that much better.  Siford's Thomas is equally phenomenal with a winning touch of delirium that excites and frightens.

The chameleon-like ensemble is perfect, and each member deserves equal acclaim.  Particularly memorable are Mark Chambers and Billy Sharpe who portray a wide array of the Hope Falls population.  Chambers is a humorous Reverend Billy Hightower, leading the company in a hand-clapping "Joyful Noise."  Sharpe is a sensational man of many faces, from a bitter teenage boy to a hilarious Lorraine.  Sharpe also features one of the strongest voices in the company, and he uses it beautifully and seemingly effortlessly throughout the evening.  Leannis Maxwell, Carl Holder, Brian C. Natale, Stephen Vendette, Katrina Griffin, and Christina E. Parke round out the Bat Boy ensemble and show energy and skill equal to that of the principle players.

Lauren Caldwell's direction is perfection - nicely moving from slapstick to drama, and artfully handling a piece of theater that could be played with more schtick than necessary.  Ric Rose's choreography is outstanding and eye-catching, making the musical numbers look like a million bucks.  It isn't often that a production can beat the cast recording as far as vocal sound, but this company manages to outshine their Off Broadway predecessors due to the help of Tane DeKrey's gifted musical direction. 

Mihai Ciupe's scenic design is a wonderful blend of cave vs. civilization as set pieces move on and off depicting several locales.  Marilyn A. Wall's costumes are delightful to look at and simple enough to add a hat or scarf onto to make the actor become a different character.  Robert P. Robins' lighting design is beautiful and gives a wonderful feel in each scene.  Lorelei Esser has built props to make the audience laugh at a moment's glance, and Graham Johnson's sound is balanced and exciting. 

In the wrong hands, Bat Boy: The Musical could easily be melodramatic and unimpressive.  But Caldwell's direction along with a dynamite company of gifted actors make the Hippodrome's production an explosive theatrical experience.  It was so good, I had to go back again.

Bat Boy played through November 17th, making way for holiday productions of A Christmas Carol and The Santaland Diaries, which will play in repertory beginning November 29th.  The Hippodrome can be seen on the web at  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at (352) 375-4477.

- Matthew MacDermid

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