It’s loud. It’s bombastic. It’s bat-shit crazy. And it’s back, returning to London after last summer’s world premiere at the Coliseum, Bat Out of Hell takes up an open-ended residency at the Dominion Theatre. And it does so with a bang.
There is no doubt it’s a show that divides opinion. It almost tears up the musical rulebook, and adding a set and a storyline to a rock concert instead. It’s no Sondheim, it’s no Lloyd Webber, but it is certainly like nothing you’ll have seen before.
Bat unapologetically lifts from the classics. A boy who never grew up, and a princess trapped in a castle waiting for the kiss of her prince to release her. But this prince is Strat, an 18-year-old who hangs out with his fellow mutants who will never age after their DNA was damaged in a chemical war, which was instigated by Falco, the ruler of the dystopian land of Obsidian who keeps his teenage daughter Raven locked away in his tower. Got it? Good.
Raven and Strat fall in love, which leads to some charged duets from the leads, Andrew Polec - who tackles the unenviable task of imitating Meat Loaf songs with pure power - and the excellent Christina Bennington. Though Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton as Raven’s parents steal the show with huge performances of “What Part of My Body Hurts the Most” and “Paradise By the Dashboard Light”.
Jay Scheib’s direction is, at times, mental. There’s more pyro than some stadium rock concerts I’ve seen, though there are some elements that are found jarring. Having video projected onto the set is commonplace in shows of any size, but the performance has to keep the audience with it. During scenes set in Ravens bedroom, which is placed 8 foot above the stage, cameramen wander around the stage, and the actors play directly to the lens rather than the audience. As it’s projected across the set, you don’t know where to look.
This production does capture the essence of rock music - it’s a spectacular, sensory overload from start to finish. But it does seem to send parts of the audience (perhaps those more accustomed to musical theatre) into fits of giggles at its most outrageous. For me, it’s the choreography. Rock and roll should be raw, it isn’t high kicks and pirouettes, street dance and silly moves.
The best shapes are probably being thrown in the seats, and it’s easy to see why. These songs sound as if they were written for the stage: “Objects in the Rear View Mirror...”, “For Crying Out Loud”, “In the Land of the Pig, the Butcher is King”. What were once ridiculous, epic songs - still equally ridiculous and epic - seem to come together and make sense. The show’s centrepiece, its title track, doesn’t disappoint.
Like any jukebox musical, it’s going to draw in a crowd who might be sitting in the theatre for the first time. Where Tina offers those audiences a view on domestic abuse and racism that will take them by surprise, Bat Out of Hell will transport them to another world, adrenaline pumping like they weren’t expecting.
On paper, it probably shouldn’t work. But as it’s unfolding in front of you, and you’re shaking your head in the midst of a “WTF?” moment, you can’t help but think “I love it”.
Bat Out of Hell Tickets are available now.