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A CurtainUp London Review
Bat out of Hell
It is the most interesting development of this musical which was written by Jim Steinman in the mid 1970s, using JM Barrie's Peter Pan as the story, to be called Neverland and with Meat Loaf singing the now famous rock anthems. When issued as an album in 1977, it found an audience in both the United Kingdom and Australia but it has taken 40 years to make its debut onstage. Note: another musical deriving from the Peter Pan inspiration: Finding Neverland by Gary Barlow and James Graham is set to come into the West End soon after success on Broadway and of course Phil Willmott's Lost Boy which I saw in 2014 sees the Lost Boys as adults.
The Bat Out of Hell book isn't perfect but I shall try to summarise it. Local magnate, in a re-imagined futuristic Manhattan called Obsidian, Falco (Rob Fowler) and his wife Sloane (Sharon Sexton) have a troubled marriage and an only child, a teenage daughter Raven (Christina Bennington). Living as an underclass as The Lost, is a group of mutants led by Strat (Andrew Polec), who are stuck, frozen at age 18.
The love story is Falco's worst nightmare, the romance between Raven and Lost leader Strat. The Lost are rounded up and captured by Falco's army and put in prison where they are tortured. The Peter Pan basis was lost on me until one of Strat's gang, Tink (Aram Macrae) is very jealous of the relationship between Raven and Strat and throws a spanner in the works and the Tinker Bell penny dropped for me.
I really enjoyed the loud rock numbers and yes they are very loud. "Bat Out of Hell" of course stands out as does the beautiful "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" although I'm not exactly sure what THAT is?
There are three men from The Lost who sing solo and exceptional singers they are, Ledoux (Giovanni Spani), Jagwire (Dom Hartley-Harris) and Blake (Patrick Sullivan). On the night that I saw, these three stood out in the First Act when Andrew Polec seemed to be the weakest of the four, but after the interval Andrew Polec was up to full strength so it may have been a sound problem of balancing his solo voice with the orchestra.
Some of the storyline veers away from the Peter Pan original with an analysis of the Falco marriage with songs like "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" and "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" has Falco and Sloane making out on a car with the commentary of a sports event in the background. Rob Fowler who plays Falco sings forcefully well and acts convincingly.
The slower numbers tend to be over produced and heavy on expressing sentiment, maybe providing padding for the musical romance story. Those aside, I thought Danielle Steers as Zahara's voice was very well balanced with Dom Hartley-Harris' Jagwire in their powerful duets, one of which is "Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are."
Emma Portner's group choreography is polished and synchronised and always gives you something to look at but in the main lacks innovation. Having said that, Raven's curious dance alone in her room was full of angular, jerking movement as she tried on the undervest taken from Strat left me asking, "Why?" The trapezoid set creates an upper room to play on two levels and uses close circuit video to stream close ups to the theatre. There is dramatic lighting but I never believed that the Bat Out of Hell motorcycle was actually moving, just that the backdrop was changing.
Despite the storyline problems, this was the musical that the Meat Loaf fans wanted to hear. In front of me were a group of women of an indefinite age from Blackpool, Lancashire who were down in London for Ladies' Day at Ascot — a traditional day of race going at Royal Ascot when all the millinery finery comes out on show. These women were ecstatic and loved the big rock numbers, holding up both hands with an extended finger as they relived their youth of forty years ago, when they would have waved lit cigarette lighters to the music.
Does Andrew Polec sing as well as Meat Loaf? Maybe not but the occasion was fun and the show feels like a big number show!
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Bat out of Hell
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jim Steinman
Directed by Jay Scheib
Starring: Andrew Polec, Christina Bennington, Rob Fowler, Sharon Sexton
Featuring: Alex Thomas-Smith, Danielle Steers, Wayne Robinson, Giovanni Spano, Patrick Sullivan
With: Kyle Anthony, Emily Benjamin, Christopher Cameron, Georgia Carling, Natalie Chua, Rob Copeland, Jonathan Cordin, Hannah Ducharme, Isaac Edwards, Jordan Luke Gage, Simon Gordon, Colette Guitart, Eric Hallengren, Vicki Manser, Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky, Aston Newman Hannington, Eve Norris, Joseph Peacock, Kyle Roberts, Craig Ryder, Dawnita Smith, Courtney Stapleton, Julie Stark, Charlotte Anne Steen, Sam Toland
Set Design: Jon Bausor
Costume Design: Jon Bausor and Meentje Nielsen
Video Design: Finn Ross
Musical Supervisor: Michael Reed
Orchestrations: Steve Sidwell
Musical Director: John Rigby
Choreography: Emma Portner
Lighting Design: Patrick Woodroffe
Sound Design: Gareth Owen
Running time: Two hours 55 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 847 1775
Booking to 27th October 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 19th April 2018 performance at The DominionTheatre, 268-269 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 7AQ (Tube:Tottenham Court Road).
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