Bat Out Of Hell The Musical
David Sonenberg, Michael Cohl and Tony Smith
The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth
I’m afraid it has to be said: two out of three ain’t bad…
Musicals are expected to have a good soundtrack, be a great spectacle and have soul. Big tick, biggish tick, fail.
The ‘Wagner of Rock’ and ‘Father of the Power Ballad’, sublime athematic songwriter (“Total Eclipse of the Heart”, “Holding Out For A Hero”, “Falling Into You”, most of Meat Loaf’s catalogue) Jim Steinman’s 50-year-old dystopian Peter Pan rock opera vision has finally come into being snatching the Radio 2 Audience Award for Best Musical at the Evening Standard Awards and was nominated for 8 WhatsOnStage Awards, including Best New Musical.
Due to the J M Barrie estate disapproval and timing, the dream was shelved to concentrate on refashioning the narrative songs, adding some more and bravely launching (into the disco-competing-with-the-rise-of-punk 1977 era), with Meatloaf at the mic, the theatrical and unique “Bat Out Of Hell” album. By 1978, it was selling half a million copies a week—the biggest debut album and second best-selling disc of all time. “Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell”, which contained the chart-topping “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”, followed 16 years later.
Steinman returned to his vision in 2015 drawing on the original album, its two sequels and adding “Dead Ringer For Love” and two new songs—and two years later the musical debuted.
Steinman’s mash-up of '80s b-movies, '50s American Dream (and virginity stealing drive-in movies), The Rocky Horror Show, Rock Of Ages, kitsch and J M Barrie is, er, ‘interesting’.
Jon Bausor’s grungy set, enhanced by Patrick Woodroffe’s lighting design, is brooding and dark with concrete, towering crane and high purple skies, as mutant Lost Boys (and Girls), development frozen at brash, crass and lustful age 18 (or younger in the case of Killian Thomas Lefevre’s jealous Tink), maraud and strut in fishnets, leathers and oversized T-shirts down in the anarchic Deep End of a post-apocalyptic city run by despot Falco (Rob Fowler). With heavy overtones of Romeo and Juliet, his precious teenage daughter Raven (Martha Kirby—Grease, Rags the Musical) is attracting the attention of immortal rebel leader and possible alien Strat (a shock-haired and somewhat androgynous American Idol Glenn Adamson) and he has that question to ask on a summer’s night hot enough to warrant scant costuming by Meentje Nielsen and bare-chested ape-hanger cruising.
Fowler returns from the UK and international touring production of Mamma Mia! to reprise the role he originated: a silky pink pigeon-smuggling shreddies-wearer in tyrannical bully clothing. Mean and comedic by turns, his tenor tones more than make up for some rather odd moments with a silver skull, much posturing and stand-and-deliver oration. His duets with full-voiced lush of a wife with an-over-the-top habit, Sloane (Franziska Schuster) are forceful and fun.
Joelle Moss as a feisty Zahara and lovelorn Jagwire (James Chisholm) bring home the iconic "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" but the built frisson is quickly dissipated as they then waft away—a bit of an issue throughout as there is quite a bit of standing around, wandering about with choreography somewhat clunky and pedestrian—although much camp cavorting by Adamson adds vigour.
All the songs from the iconic albums are there, including “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth”, “Bat Out Of Hell”, “ For Crying Out Loud”, “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”, as well as two previously unreleased songs, “What Part of My Body Hurts the Most” and “Not Allowed to Love”, sung with gusto—with Danny Whelan, in his UK tour debut the one to watch—but occasionally indistinct and drowned a tad by the enthusiastic, more than competent band under the strict baton of Iestyn Griffiths.
Amid the fire and smoke, roaring engines, exploding ticker tape and gunfire, gleaming mean machines and rampaging riot police, detail is easily missed: weird servants add much-needed humour at the doomed birthday feast and sanitiser is required for a gentleman’s pact; on-stage video relay captures angst in the bedroom and cleverly (I assume) drops out of synch in what might otherwise be intense moments, while a particular delight is musicians clambering out of the pit with damaged instruments following a direct hit with a car engine (although why Raven would run on and drop it in is a mystery).
A cult classic in the making I'm sure, but, despite a great soundtrack competently delivered, some great and some reasonable visuals, this misses on soul-engaging pathos and passion.
Reviewer: Karen Bussell