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A CurtainUp Review
Bat Out of Hell: The Musical
Forty-two years ago, Steinman teamed up with singer Michael Lee Aday, better known as Meat Loaf, to record a rock song cycle, "Bat Out of Hell." That album is among the best-selling recordings of the rock era. Its sequels — "Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell"(1993) and "Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose"(2006) — have also had enduring appeal. But the average rock fan is likely to associate Bat Out of Hell with Meat Loaf, who's a household name, rather than with Steinman, who's not.
For this stage show, already seen in Manchester (U.K.), London and Toronto, Steinman gets top billing. He has written the book, as well as the songs (many already familiar from the "Top 40"airwaves). Presumably, he's also responsible for the cockamamie story line.
Bat Out of Hell: The Musical is a dystopian extravaganza inspired to some extent by J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. The production consists of 19 musical numbers with a minimum of unsung material. The disproportion of music to dialogue works just fine since the story makes even less sense than the silly libretto of Moulin Rouge, which opened on Broadway two weeks ago.
Bat takes place in Manhattan after a cataclysmic event that's never explained or described. The island, now called Obsidian, seems to be afloat in the ocean, free of state or federal ties. The citizens of this city-state are divided between a super-rich ruling class and the largely destitute hoi polloi, with no evidence of an in-between.
The action alternates between the high-rise realm of Obsidian's wealthiest, most powerful citizen, Falco (Bradley Dean), and the subterranean world of a gang called The Lost. Through some biological effect of the recent cataclysmic event, the members of The Lost are frozen in adolescence, without any prospect of maturing further. Like the Lost Boys of Peter Pan, they'll never grow up. In Bat, the city's abandoned subway tunnels serve the purpose of Barrie's Neverland; and the gang members hang out in a seedy bar underneath the ruins of the Museum of Natural History.
The leader of The Lost is a strapping fellow named Strat (Andrew Polec). He's the Peter Pan of Bat; and his Wendy is Raven (Christina Bennington), daughter of the sinister Falco and his scheming wife, Sloane (Lena Hall). While the relationship of Barrie's Peter and Wendy is chaste, that of Strat and Raven is decidedly steamy. Falco, the Captain Hook of Bat, is a sworn enemy of The Lost; and he's determined to thwart Strat's romance with Raven.
The cast of 20 well-trained singers displays a level of musicianship far above what one expects from rockers. Repeating the roles they played in the U.K., Polec and Bennington have the voices, physiques, and chemistry romantic leads in a musical ought to have. Danielle Steers, also a veteran of the U.K. production, plays Zahara (the show's Ado Annie or Carrie Pipperidge) with relentless stage presence and a very spiky kind of humor. Her torchy rendition of one of Steinman's best-known songs, "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad,"is a high point of the evening.
Avionce Hoyles, an alumnus of the Toronto iteration of Bat, lends impish charm to Tink, the youngest of the gang members and the musical's counterpart of Barrie's Tinkerbell. Like Barrie's character, Tink is possessive of his Peter Pan, and jealousy gets him into terrible trouble. When Hoyles tears into the lovely ballad "I'm Not Allowed to Love,"he sheds Tink's pixieish qualities, transforming Steinman's song into a gay-pride anthem and tugging with authority at listeners' heartstrings.
Broadway veterans Dean and Hall are as spirited and professional as one would expect, but they have the thankless roles of the grownups in a musical about rebellious teenagers in love. Their bump-and-grinding performance of "Paradise by the Dashboard Light,"with a backup crew of burlesque dancers, is funny at first but, when unduly prolonged, icky.
For this U.S. presentation, Edward Pierce has adapted the scenic design Jon Bausor created for the English production. It's a spectacle of ugliness, with lots of moving parts and playing areas on several levels. Pierce's version of Obsidian's luxury housing appears almost as squalid as the city's underworld. The designers have wisely left ample open space on the huge City Center stage for Xena Gusthart's lively choreography, as well as motorcycles (which have always been indispensable to the aesthetic of Bat Out of Hell).
Bat is directed with great efficiency by Jay Scheib, a professor of theater at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Scheib's program bio says he's "internationally known for genre-defying works of daring physicality,"as well as "integration of new (and used) technologies in live performance."Technology is what this production has in spades. Several screens display real-time moving images captured by a videographer (filmmaker Paulina Jurzec), who wanders around the outskirts of the action. The complex lighting is by Patrick Woodroffe, who designed the lights for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and has been creative director for three decades of Rolling Stones tours.
Despite all its Broadway-ish trappings, Bat Out of Hell: The Musical is a rock concert for rock lovers repelled by rock concerts. It starts on time (rather than an hour late); and there's no warm-up band to be endured before the principal attraction. Polite ushers guide spectators to their seats. The venue is clean and pleasant — no audience members throwing up, no whiffs of weed from dark corners; and no used condoms on the lavatory floors.
Diehard fans of "Bat Out of Hell"(the recording) will feel the absence of Meat Loaf in the stage version. And all but the most ardent Steinman devotees are likely to grow weary before the final blast of shiny mylar confetti descends on the auditorium. But those with an insatiable appetite for the youth sound of the late 1970s will be in Seventh Heaven at Bat Out of Hell: The Musical.
Our London critic saw the show file. To read her review go here.
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Bat Out of Hell: The Musical
Book, Music, & Lyrics by Jim Steinman
Directed by Jay Scheib
Cast: Christina Bennington (Raven), Will Branner (Ledoux), Lincoln Clauss (O'Dessasuite), Kayla Cyphers (Kwaidan), Bradley Dean (Falco), Lena Hall (Sloane), Avionce Hoyles (Tink), Jessica Jaunich (Valkyrie), Tyrick Wiletz Jones (Jagwire), Paulina Jurzec (Videographer), Adam Kemmerer (Markevitch), Harper Miles (Scherzo), Erin Mosher (Vilmos), Aramie Payton (Denym), Andrew Polec (Strat), Andres Quintero (Hollander), Danielle Steers (Zahara), Kaleb Wells (Hoffmann)
Music Director: Ryan Cantwell
Musical Supervisor & Additional Arrangements: Michael Reed
Orchestrator: Steve Sidwell
Music Coordinator: Howard Jones
Set & Costume Design: Jon Bausor
Original Costume Design: Meentje Nielsen
Lighting Design: Patrick Woodroffe
Sound Design: Gareth Owen
Video Design: Finn Ross
Production Stage Manager: Ryan J. Bell
Running Time: Two hours 45 minutes, with one intermission
New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues)
From 8/1/19; opened 8/8/19; closes 9/8/19
Evening performances Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays at 7:00 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Matinees on Saturdays at 2:00 pm and Sundays at 1:30 pm
Reviewed by Charles Wright at the evening performance on 8/6/19.
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