Bat Boy: The Musical
This scribe has been batty for the musical Bat Boy: The Musical ever since I first heard the Off-Broadway cast album. Seeing the show proved problematic, however, as the financial repercussions of 9/11 appeared to doom the New York run to an early closing, and no Seattle company has jumped on producing it. At just about three hours away by train, it seemed worth taking Oregon's Portland Center Stage up on their invite to come and check it out. And boy, was it!
The show itself is a small gem, in that en vogue musicals-spoofing-musicals style that Urinetown does so well. The Portland Center Stage version also has a breakout star performer, Wade McCollum (pictured at left), in the role of Edgar, the Bat Boy. McCollum is everything you could want in a musical theatre performer. With a strong and rangy voice, he is nimble in his dancing, nuanced as an actor and able to and contort his body in a bat-like way that seems, gosh, not quite human!
The book and story by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming tell the tale of the Bat Boy (yes, the one from the cover of Weekly World News), forcibly ripped from his solitary cavernous existence and initially caged in the home of veterinarian Thomas Parker and his family. But the townies of Hope Falls, West Virginia don't like his looks, the fact that his bite on the neck of a town girl - inflicted in self-defense - is slow to heal, or that maybe he is responsible for the decline in their cattle population. His principal defenders are the very Donna Reed-like Mrs. Meredith Parker (who plays Henry Higgins to Edgar's Eliza) and her teenaged daughter Shelley, who goes from finding Edgar freaky to offering him her neck in marriage. Dr. Parker, jealous of his wife's maternal smothering of Edgar, goes all Sweeney Todd and starts framing the sweet natured (if blood thirsty) kid for murders.
All of this is set to one of the decade's best musical theatre scores, thus far, with magical music and hilarious lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe. The songs intentionally remind us of everything from The Lion King to gospel to every Broadway musical you can think of, in a most engaging and oddly endearing way.
Director Chris Coleman sees to it that the proceedings hardly ever drag and has employed a bravura cast that largely holds its own with the majestic McCollum. Chief among them is Susannah Mars, who could not be bettered in her slightly off-kilter suburban sweetness as Meredith Parker. The actress delivers the lullaby-like "A Home for You" with immense vocal skill and soars on the Sondheim-tinged "Three Bedroom House," a duet with Rena Strober as her plucky daughter Shelley. Strober also pairs well with McCollum on the pretty/creepy love duet "Inside Your Heart," which leads into McCollum's tour-de-force, eleven o'clock number "Apology to a Cow." Dan Sharkey starts his Dr. Parker off as borderline demented, which diminishes the effect of his psychotic unraveling later on, but the actor is a consummate pro and handles the tango duet "Dance With Me, Darling" with Mars in bravura fashion.
The remaining twenty-five characters are taken on by members of a strong ensemble who change identities, sexual and otherwise, just as quickly as they change costumes. Especially impressive are Victor Morris as the obnoxious Mrs. Taylor and the gospel-belting Reverend Hightower, and Charlie Parker as bossy town councilwoman Maggie and tough kid Ron. Dominic Bogart, as the mythical Pan, leads a splendidly surreal production number, "Children, Children," which hilariously spoofs Julie Taymor's Lion King opening, thanks in large part to Susan E. Mickey's deliciously daffy animal costumes.
Dex Edwards' tabloid trash-inspired set design is another highpoint of the show, aided by Diane Ferry Williams' splendid lighting design. Rick Lewis' musical direction is sublime, and sound designer Jen Raynak strikes the perfect balance between musicians and singers.
But this production soars highest any moment McCollum is onstage. Even before he learns to speak, you are glued to his every bat squawk and flutter. He is riotously funny as he goes from non-verbal to linguist in the show's wittiest number, "Show You a Thing or Two," then makes you laugh through tears in his imploring "Let Me Walk Among You." If any Seattle theatre is thinking of doing Bat Boy: The Musical in the near future, they ought to see if this mega-talent would think of reprising the role.
Bat Boy: The Musical for Portland Center Stage, playing the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway at Main, Portland, through November 23. For more information visit www.pcs.org.