Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bat Boy

GLTF spreads its wings with the bizarre ‘BATBOY’

When one thinks of the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, the normal vision is for a Shakespearean drama or comedy, or maybe a Noel Coward farce, but, not a musical, and especially not a musical based on sensational headlines from The National Inquirer.

In a search for new and younger audiences, and wanting to go down a path less traveled, the company’s Artistic Director has reached into his hat of tricks and pulled out Keythe Farley, Brain Flemming and Laurence O’Keefe’s outrageous Off-Broadway” ‘BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL,’ which in its Big Apple run was referred to as the “musical of the year.”

What is this outrageous show all about? According to the Weekly World News, the Bat Boy saga began in 1992 when the 19-pound mutant, described by scientists as half human and half bat, was captured in a cave in Virginia's Shenandoah Mountains. Supposedly, the strange creature had enormous amber eyes that enabled him to see in the dark and oversized ears that worked like radar! The feisty creature was taken to a secret federal laboratory, where experts from all over the world came to study him. In 1993 and again in 1994, government officials denied rumors that Bat Boy had escaped from the lab and was on the loose. His present whereabouts is unknown. (Gee, maybe that kid sitting next to you in the theatre is not really a nice little child, but….Bat Boy!)

THE musical tells the tale of finding the Bat Boy and his struggle to assimilate and gain societal acceptance against great odds. It takes on a ‘MY FAIR LADY’ meets sci-fi, as Bat Boy is taught how to behave like a respectable citizen, complete with a proper British accent, and finds out the “real” story of his conception. The moral? Who cares! You go to see ‘BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL’ to be entertained. It’s the National Inquirer, Cleveland-Action 19 News version of theatre.

The Great Lakes Theatre Festival production, under the direction of Victoria Bussert, starts slowly but, in the second act picks up steam. So much of the fun, the outrageous visual images, is undoubtedly the creation of Martin Céspedes. Listed as the choreographer, his imprint is all over the staging, from the gestures, to the body poses, to the visual images, to the movements. He not only gets Shakespearean actors to dance--let’s say, move creatively to music--but he creates physical images that become the mountain folk caricatures that the show needs to be outrageous.

Mitch McCarrell, a Baldwin Wallace musical theatre graduate, is Bat Boy incarnate. He hangs from the rafters, sings with gusto, textures the role with pathos, and captivates the audience. His diminutive physical size enhances his believability. He is one of the few cast members who can actually sing as a musical theatre performer should sing. The others, unfortunately, are actors who have been required, because of the repertory nature of GLTF, to vocalize.

Lynn Allison is fun as the mother with a secret. Lynn Robert Berg is less successful in portraying the tortured doctor/father. An even more outrageous melodramatic interpretation is needed to flesh out the role. Erin Childs makes for a nice “forbidden” love interest for the Bat Boy, though she could have been filled with more disdain and teenage angst in the opening scenes. Aled Davis is a hoot as the Barney Fife-like Sheriff. Eduardo Placer does a wonderful vocal version of “Children, Children.”

Unfortunately, many of the lyrics to the songs are drowned out by the overly enthusiastic on-stage band. Why, oh why hasn’t musical director Matthew Webb learned that the purpose of the band in musical theatre is to back up, not drown out the singers. This is not a rock concert. Calm down the guitar and percussion. If the audience can’t hear the singers, there is no story line understanding.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: You have to go see ‘BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL,’ with the right attitude. You have to will yourself to have fun, realizing that you are participating in a tabloid fantasy. Set aside your traditional beliefs about what GLTF theatre should be. If you do, once you get past the draggy first act, you are in for a fun-filled flight of fantasy.