The Great Lakes Theater Festival got a little less stuffy this year when they decided to put on “Bat Boy- The Musical,” a play that started off-Broadway in New York City and was soon a hit. It combines lighthearted jokes as well as providing a biting social commentary on acceptance. And who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned tragicomedy, right?
The evening began with a warm introduction from producing artistic director, Charles Fee, who challenged the audience to find the classical allusions in the play. Writers Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming managed to create a modern comedy that cleverly references many classic works, from Oedipus to the Bible. These allusions are intricately interwoven into the lines of the play and lyricist Laurence O’Keefe spotlights them occasionally in the musical repertoire as well.
Ripped from the pages of a tabloid, this is the story of a boy/bat hybrid found in a cave and brought to live with society. Given to the town doctor, who would like nothing more than to see him dead and only convinced to keep him with the hopes that it will save his marriage, Bat Boy is kept in a larger than life cage that dominates the stage. With mentoring from Mrs. Parker and her daughter Shelley, Bat Boy becomes gentrified and learns human traits such as singing and the capacity for love. All the while, the town is plotting his demise. Jealousy drives Dr. Parker to betray Bat Boy as he convinces the town that Bat Boy is responsible for a string of murders and the demise of the town’s cattle. Musical numbers such as “Three Bedroom House” spotlight the mother and daughter’s desire to escape and live with Bat Boy, and “Let Me Walk Among You” is Bat Boy’s plea to be treated with kindness and respect.
The choreography throughout was equal parts humorous and effective. It shone brightest in the ending number, “Hold Me Bat Boy” which sees the entire cast in unison posing like vampires. The set design was literal: the town is trying to figure out why all the cows are dying and the stage is full of dead and dying cows. This, however, in addition to being quite funny, added to the rural theme of the play. In lieu of an orchestra, “Bat Boy” had a real live rock and roll band on the upper left hand side of the stage, elevated high above most of the action. The play succeeds with the help of able director, Victoria Bussert, and also because it not only acknowledges its own campiness; it exploits it. It takes campy to a whole new level and still manages to tell a heartwarming story that ends in tragedy.
Lynn Allison’s portrayal of Meredith Parker was haunting throughout. Her ability to emote is uncanny and her portrayal of the mother, even in her most despicable moments, was likeable. “Christian Charity” was a prevalent theme throughout and even got an entire song written about it, even though the behavior of the townspeople is anything but Christian or charitable. Bat Boy’s cage dominated the stage and he nimbly climbed around it and even hung upside down in it. Mitch McCarroll’s portrayal of Bat Boy was spot on. He was vampy without being cartoonish and his voice shone in more than one number. His metamorphosis from a grunting illiterate vampire boy in a cave to an articulate adult with a strong sense of family and wish for love was passionately played. During the town meetings, a hearty laugh was provided by the token queen in town, who was played by Dane Agostinis. Despite repeated problems with the mics emitting a loud popping noise, the cast soldiered on and pushed out an opening night performance that was filled with laughs and even a few tears.
It has been said that “Bat Boy” is a play that can be presented with a cast of 10 or a cast of 100. This cast was closer to 10 and most of the players reprised multiple roles. Often, one character would leave the stage, only to emerge seconds later dressed as a different character. In some pieces this would be counterproductive, but in this production it worked well and further emphasized the overall lightheartedness of the piece. “Bat Boy” is a play with a cult like following for a good reason. It is well written, funny, has great music, and at least in Cleveland, is backed by a very talented cast.
Performances of “Bat Boy – The Musical” run on select dates at the Hanna Theatre through May 16th. For a complete list of show dates/times and for ticket information please vist PlayhouseSquare’s official site.