|Found another review for you|
||angie 10:53 am MST 02/23/17|
Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical
I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday… Well, maybe the day before yesterday. Because that’s when it actually was. But never let reality get in the way of a good Jim Steinman quote.
So, on Monday I made the trip up to Manchester to see Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical at the Manchester Opera House. I’ve been waiting for this for a very long time, having first heard rumblings about the musical years back, although some people have been waiting for literal decades. With such a history behind it, could it live up to the hype, especially given how some of Steinman’s previous theatre efforts like Batman and Dance Of The Vampires (specifically the English version rather than Tanz) have gone down?
I want of be wary of spoilers here, because there are some moments and aspects that need to be seen on stage rather than explained. I’m going to try not to spoil the unexpected things and stick to a general impression, but just to be careful, if you want a broad summary, here it is: It’s really, phenomenally good. I liked it a lot and want to cuddle the producers and cast and stage designers and everyone involved for making it happen.
If you want more detail than that, I could ramble on and praise this thing for days, but will try to stay somewhat coherent below the read more.
So, you’re probably already thinking ‘oh, another jukebox musical like Mamma Mia?’, but it’s a little more complex than that. The original Bat Out Of Hell album took most of its content from a musical Steinman had written called Neverland, a vague adaptation of Peter Pan set in a dystopian future. This started life as a musical, and nearly 40 years later, it’s returned home. And you can really tell how well it works. Steinman’s songs are narrative-driven beasts, and work well for developing their characters in the musical setting.
This new musical takes some plot elements, themes, and yes, musical numbers from the original, but is nevertheless its own beast. Having read scripts and listened to recordings from the original, this is a much more structured play, and to my mind, a better one.
Also, just in case you’re wondering, it’s not necessary at all to know anything that’s come before. This is a standalone musical, and while there are lots of lovely little nods to Steinman’s catalogue in the form of background details - be they protest signs, shirts or album covers on a teenager’s wall - they’re there as extras to make the long-time fans happy. And I was. So that’s nice.
So what is the plot? We follow Strat (Andrew Polec) and his band of misfits, The Lost, a group of misfits blessed/cursed with being stuck as 18 year olds. (Like I said, Peter Pan) They’re the outcasts of society, a dystopian future version of Manhattan ran by the sinister Falco (Rob Fowler) from his glittering tower. However, when Falco’s daughter Raven (Christina Bennington) - kept inside the walls for all of her life - falls in love with Strat, chaos ensues, as multiple relationships blossom and fall apart.
In broad strokes, it sounds fairly raditional. But I think where the musical shines is the subtleties of the character arcs. Not only do we follow Strat and Raven, but also Falco and his wife Sloane (Sharon Sexton), who were both reckless youths themselves once (barely seventeen and barely dressed, you might say), but now both gentrified, embittered and with a fractured relationship. Their development is fantastically handled. Then there’s Tink (Aran MacRae), himself eternally young but stuck just younger than the rest of the Lost, and feeling like an outsider because of it, wondering where the changes around him will leave him. And there’s Zahara (Danielle Steers) and Jagwire (Dom Hartley-Harris), dealing with their own desires - not always towards each other - as illustrated in their gorgeous duet of ‘Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad’. In a night full of show-stealers, it’s up there with the best of them, and to my mind better than the Meat Loaf original.
I’ve said on Twitter that sometimes you get actors on film or on stage who are just so magnetic that you can’t take your eyes off of them, because you’re constantly drawn to the little things they’ll do, the way they move, the unpredictability. And this show is FULL of them. What I’d do for a DVD release, because I found myself constantly wanting to track one performer across the stage, and ended up with my eyes dancing around like I was watching three very frantic tennis games at once.
I mean… This cast. I can honestly say I’ve never, ever seen a stage cast like this. And I’ve seen Tim Curry on stage. Just up and down, not a weak link. And I’m still in awe at their stamina. Trust me, belting out a full Jim Steinman song in front of an audience is tough work - even if it’s just karaoke at a work party, the original Bat Out Of Hell is 7 minutes long - and around 20 numbers are performed through the night. Some are longer, some are shorter, but the intensity of the performances from start to finish is just astounding to me.
I’m pleased to say that of those numbers, not all of them are the surface-level ‘hits’. Some often overlooked masterpieces are included, like ‘Good Girls Go To Heaven’, ‘It Just Won’t Quit’, and ‘Making Love Out Of Nothing At All’. Then you’ve got the ones everyone recognises, like ‘I’d Do Anything For Love’, ‘It’s All Coming Back To Me Now’ and ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ - the latter in particular being fucking phenomenal on stage. Almost literally. And the ending has to be seen to be believed.
The staging also needs a mention. It’s a colossal set on multiple levels, with scenes in Raven’s raised bedroom also shot in real time by camera and projecting onto screens so we can see the actor’s faces and reactions. Transitions between sets are incredible, and there’s a tremendous variety too, going from the graffiti-strewn streets to ornate sitting rooms, nostalgic setpieces to motorcycle races, special effects taking us from the fires of hell to the enchanted edge of a lake. They’ve taken real efforts to make this something special, and it’s up there with the likes of Phantom or Les Mis in terms of spectacle.
I’ve probably gone on enough here, but I also want to say that this play made me very happy as a bisexual audience member. (And not just because the cast are all honestly stunning, though forgive me a moment of shallowness in saying that they definitely are. I was more than happy to see Andrew Polec shirtless from my place in the second row, just saying.) But mainly because of The Lost and how they’re presented.
Oh, The Lost. I’m a sucker for found-family type deals, and they suit that perfectly. They’re full of affection for one another, always physically reassuring and supporting each other with hugs and care, protection and empathy. That’s amazing enough in itself. But as a group they also seem to be clearly queer-coded as I’ve ever seen, from their androgynous dress sense (one very femme-presenting ensemble member wearing a hat with the word ‘boy’ in particular setting my headcanons going) to furtive same-sex kisses in the background, and particularly with Strat, who - to give as few spoilers as possible - is quite happy to expound on his love for Raven but also to describe a male character as his “soulmate”, and there’s never any sense that we’re meant to find this a contradiction. He’s the polyamorous bisexual hero we need, and the one we deserve. (Hey, there’s a number from the cancelled Batman musical in the play, I’m allowed to make that reference.)
So yeah, Bat Out Of Hell. It’s pretty much the best thing I’ve ever seen, even though this is literally in the first week of their opening run. There’ll be tweaks and changes to come, but I’m definitely buying tickets for the London run in June/July to see what comes next, and so should you.
TAGGED AS: BAT OUT OF HELL, BAT OUT OF HELL: THE MUSICAL, BATTHEMUSICAL, JIM STEINMAN, MEAT LOAF, WATCH THIS SHOW, PLEASE WATCH THIS SHOW, GIVE IT YOUR MONEY, GIVE IT YOUR ONLINE ATTENTION, GIVE IT YOUR FANFICS, (I CERTAINLY WILL BE), AND MAKE SURE THIS SURVIVES TO BE SEEN ACROSS THE WORLD FOR YEARS TO COME,
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