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A CurtainUp Review
Elyse Sommer's New York Review-
Move over Rocky Horror Show and make room for Bat Boy the spunky, spoofy high energy musical that's just settled in at the Union Square Theatre. It's a lampoon salad that tosses together sendups of popular "B" horror movies and enough easily recognizable plays and musicals to rival Forbidden Broadway.
Bat Boy also makes musical history by pioneering the super market tabloid as libretto source material. The "true" story of the half-boy -half bat found in a cave was a major scoop of the early 90s for that purveyor of all the news that's likely to boost circulation, Weekly World News.
While the program acknowledges this unlikely source above the actors' credits, it's the creative team listed above paper's credit -- writers Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming and composer-lyricist Laurence O'Keefe-- who have elevated the unlikely tale from its low-brow origins into a wacky but witty, cult-in-the-making show. And it's Deven May's truly remarkable portrayal of the Bat Boy that transforms the pointy-eared, snaggle-toothed freak into an endearing hero. His semi-humanoid reflects the influence of Jerry Lewis and also brings to mind Janie Dee's enchanting "actoid" in last season's non-musical hit, Comic Potential. and his physical movements. This last is not to say this is a show likely to go over with more than a sprinkling of the conventional Manhattan Theater Club subscribers who heartily embraced the Ayckbourn comedy. Its appeal is to the Rocky Horror Show enthusiasts and those who have made Bat Boy's neighbor, De La Guarda, something of an institution
Bat Boy is not a big musical. There are just nine performers besides May, all zooming in and out of roles like -- well, like bats out of hell. These versatile performers represent the narrow-minded inhabitants of the small West Virginia town of Hope Falls, an erstwhile coal mining town whose citizens have tried to retool themselves as cattle rangers. This is an unlikely undeavor given the town's mountainous geography (which lends metaphorical signifance to its name), but it does provide local adventurers with plenty of caves to explore.
It is in one of Hope Falls' caves that the mutant creature is discovered. His biting one of the locals, Ruthie (Daria Hardeman), earns him the hostility of her brother Rick (Doug Storm). It also brings on the sheriff (Richard Pruitt) who delivers Bat Boy to the home of the local veterinarian Thomas Parker (Sean McCourt).
Doctor Parker's wife Meredith (Kaitlin Hopkins who taps into the humor of her role without ever overacting and also has a true musical star's voice) takes the frightened creature under her maternal wing and, aided by some BBC language tapes and her teenaged daughter Shelley (Kerry Butler, another solid performer with a soaring voice), transforms him into a proper young man named Edgar. After a delightfully choreographed hilarious Fair Lady style tutorial, "Show You a Thing Or Two", ("A bit more schooling; a lot less drooling," from the teachers and a gleeful "I think I've got it!" from the batty humanoid) Edgar is no longer just a blend of bat and boy but also of Boris Karloff and Eliza Doolittle. But though he now talks like a boy and looks like a boy (well, just about), and has a boy's yearnings to be accepted -- his touching "Let Me Walk Among You" in the second act tries to appeal to the bat inside all the townspeople-- his taste buds are still those of a bat. He prefers blood to bread, broccoli or beef. Dr. Parker, who turns out to be the villain of the piece, is the only one who kows Edgar's dangerous little secret -- at least until the plot takes further twists and turns and winds down to its fantastical and fatal conclusion.
Laurence O'Keefe's peppy and melodic pop-rock score is played by a five piece combo tucked away at the side of the stage. The single unit, double-tiered set by Robert Hoover and Bryan Johnson evokes an appropriate sense of eeriness and easily and with minimal fuss converts into the various locations in which the comi-tragic saga unfolds (its emphasis by director Scott Schwartz, steadfastly on the comic): a dark, deep cave, the Parker family's living room, a slaughter house, a revival meeting tent (conducted with verve by the outstanding Trent Armand Kendall who is also a riot as the bat-bitten Ruthie's mother), the woods and the town's houses.
If Bat Boy could be said to have an anthem song, it's probably "Hold Me Bat Boy" which opens and closes the show. There are a number of others which should make for the likelihood of a popular CD, though there are also a number of less than memorable ones. "Children Children" which propels a Lion King spoof isn't as clever as "Show You a Thing Or Two" but it brought down the house with the laughter drowning out most of the lyrics.
With all these wonderfully weird goings on, and given that co-author Keythe Farley has written for Rugrats, this is a show that's likely to appeal to the whole family (provided the kids are at least nine or ten). On the other hand, parents who think some of the adult stuff might just go over the kids' head might bear in mind one ten-year old's reply to a man who during intermission asked him if he was having a good time, "sure-- and I know what's going on!"
If Bat Boy lives up to its promise as cult hit, it wouldn't be too surprising for the Weekly World News' other mega hit story, "Elvis Is Alive", became Elvis Is Alive: The Musical. If you want to check out some of the tunes before investing in a ticket, check this website
LINKS TO SHOWS MENTIONED
The Rocky Horror Show
De La Guarda
Forbidden Broadway 2001;
The Lion King