Book, Music & Lyrics by Jim Steinman
Directed by Jay Schieb
A Mirvish Presentation at the Ed Mirvish Theatre
Opened October 25, 2017
Bat out of Hell has an absurd plot, largely ridiculously cliched characters, boringly repetitive but energetic choreography, an ensemble of mainly posturing performers where posture or whine or grunt or roar is confused with acting, and some remarkable special effects. Confetti cannons shoot out silver tinsel, a banquet table converts into a pink convertible car that crashes slowly into the orchestra pit and sends some of the musicians scurrying out of it, and a largely static motorbike explodes, sending its parts flying into the air to form an iconic heart that floats above an anti-hero who rubs blood from it all over his bare chest. These are, no doubt, the moments and effects that younger generations will remember into middle age the way their parents probably cherish memories of a crashing chandelier, an underground secret lake, dancing jellicle cats, or an American helicopter hovering over the stage from their most treasured Broadway musicals.
Enduring the two-hour-forty-minute show (including intermission) is a test and a trial, except for (and this is a mighty exception, indeed) Jim Steinman’s music and lyrics that run the gamut from tribal rock to tender love ballad to pop diva arias and stunning blues. For the most part, the songs are very well sung, especially by Andrew Polec’s blond, bare-chested Strat (leader of a never-aging band of teen underground rockers aptly called The Lost), Christina Bennington’s raven-haired Raven (teenage daughter of filthy rich tycoon Falcon with his own Trumpian tower, though minus the gold furnishings), Billy Lewis, Jr.’s Jagwire (one of the more memorable denizens of The Lost), and Danielle Steers’s Zahara (a busty, long legged beauty with a voice as melodiously sexy and grainy as Cher’s). The last two share a wonderful duet entitled “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad,” which, alas, is not how I would score this production.
Trouble is that Jim Steinman (the great song-writer and lyricist) also did the book, which is about as silly a rock libretto as could be imagined. Obsidian (formerly known as Manhattan) is the dark city of this musical’s fiction, and it is apparently divided into the vulgarly rich (the Falcos, who seem to have no neighbours) and the vulgarly low (The Lost who never age beyond 18). Jon Bausor’s set design is massively Wagnerian in a 21st century punk rock manner (replete with dark cave, tunnel, and huge overhanging wooden beams) offset by the richly grandiose Falco Towers, where security thugs are in black leather, and where virtually every act in every boudoir or room is videotaped live. It’s Trump’s reality T.V. without the orange-haired scumbag, though Falco is a scumbag of a different type: he’s usually bare-chested, wears a scar, tattoos, and nipple rings, and walks around with a bat covered with barbed wire. In one scene, the Abu Ghraib of Obsidian where The Lost are tortured in orange jumpsuits in a large cage, he belts out “In the Land of the Pig, the Butcher is King” He is evidently a former rocker who is off his meds. Rob Fowler, who plays him, is as coarse as the role. His wife, Sloane, is played by Sharon Sexton, and she lacks entertainment by her mister, at least of the raw, carnal sort. She spreads her legs invitingly, tumbles over a sofa in a lubricious display, but the actress has a nice way with throwaway wit. Well, the lady’s not fully a tramp, and she does get her all-out moment of lyrical eroto-mania by way of auto-mania with her old man in the number “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”
The main thrust of the musical can be summarized as follows: teen rebel with a cause loves teen gal, loses her, wins her again, but loses a younger male teen devotee named Tink (evidently cursed with an obsessive gene and an even more perverse nickname) in the process. Shades of Hair, Peter Pan, Rent, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and who knows what else. But the devil is in the bad details. How is Strat able to penetrate Falco Towers and slip into Raven’s bedroom without being detected by heavy security thugs and surveillance video? Are Falco and family doing their own version of Gene Simmons’s Family Jewels reality television series? Why do teenage hard rockers fall so easily into a line dance with limited movement vocabulary? And why after an age of Glam Rock are they all dressed perennially for Halloween or a bargain-basement version of Hair or Rent?
The songs, as I’ve said, are wonderful.