American supermarket tabloids are full of crazy stories with such headlines as “I Was Bigfoot’s Love Slave”. One such headline was ‘Bat Boy Found In A Cave’ alongside a picture of a young boy with large pointed ears, huge eyes and a mouth full of fangs. The story quickly become part of American myth with sightings of a Bat Boy reported in many parts of the country.
It is this bizarre legend that Bat Boy The Musical is based on, with music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe, story and book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming. It opened off-Broadway where it ran for only nine months in 2001. However, this has not stopped it from gaining a cult following with amateur productions opening in towns and cities across America.
The story is very simple. Bat boy (Deven May) is found in a cave, captured and then nursed by the local vet’s wife to the growing displeasure of her husband who for some inexplicable reason grows increasingly jealous of him. In the meantime the local town’s people are convinced that the Bat Boy is an evil freak of nature responsible for the death of their cows, amongst other things. Bat Boy himself is a tortured soul who is sickened by his appetite for blood and so when a revivalist meeting is held promising miraculous healing he seeks divine intervention. However, things conspire against him and he is soon forced to flee for his life.
The story is blatantly silly and an amalgamation of corny horror movie plots: blood drinking vampires; misunderstood monsters; mad scientists and a small intolerant farming community who are willing to form a posse whenever anything goes bump in the night. However, this does not stop the musical from entertaining as there are enough zany characters on stage to keep one amused and compensate for the inanity of the story.
There is no doubt that the star of the show is Deven May who is the original Bat Boy having made the role his own in the musical’s off-Broadway production. We watch Deven as he develops Bat Boy from semi-naked wild boy who is more comfortable hanging upside down, to white suited genteel Edgar, the large hearted creature who is more human then any of the misfit town people who refer to him as a ‘freak’. As well as a powerful singing voice, May has great comic timing and a magnetic presence on stage. His performance is pivotal to the show as it is the only thing that prevents it from collapsing into a heap of insubstantial rubble.
There are two other performances that stand out, Rebecca Vere who plays the uptight Vet’s wife Meredith Parker with ironic piousness, and Maurey Richards who as Rev Hightower, leads the whole ensemble and auditorium in the clap happy gospel song “A Joyful Noise”, as well as giving a wonderful comical performance as the heavily built middle aged Mrs Taylor, who seeks revenge for the death of her moronic children.
The music is an eclectic mix of hip-hop, gospel, tango and rock-opera with lyrics that go from the ridiculously sublime to the sublimely ridiculous. And I left the theatre humming the signature tune, “Hold Me, Bat Boy”.
Bat Boy may well gather a cult following of devotees who will swear that it is one of the zaniest off-beat musicals ever written, however, for the remainder of us it will be one of those fun musical comedies that is pleasant to sit through but quickly forgotten.
**Photos by Ivan Kyncl
What other critics had to say.....
MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "What we get is a musically undistinguished, lyrically trite rock-show...Quite what it is doing on a West End stage...is a mystery." FIONA MOUNTFORD for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Book now for quite the most batty experience the West End has offered in many a long day." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Only a marginal improvement on the production values and wit of a student revue." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Ebullient stuff, sometimes fun and occasionally even funny. But it’s also pretty sophomoric and almost wilfully cluttered." IAN SHUTTLEWORTH for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Its producers should have known better than to plonk it down in a 1,400-seat West End theatre, where even a noisy claque cannot disguise the failure of any attempt at subtlety or complexity."