Bat Boy the Musical
Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming (Story and Book), and Laurence O'Keefe (Music and Lyrics)
West Yorkshire Playhouse
"Bat Child Found in Cave" screamed the headline in what subsequently became the second highest selling edition of the Weekly World News publication - beaten only by the "Elvis is Alive" edition. From these five words, Bat Boy the Musical was born, which enjoyed a successful run in New York, winning and nominated for multiple awards, before being forced to close following the tragedy of 9/11.
Bat Boy the Musical takes place in a small town in West Virginia where a group of teenagers discover a creature, half-boy, half-bat, hidden deep in a cave. As frightened as they are, he bites one of the kids before being captured. Not knowing what to do with the creature, Sheriff Reynolds (Andrew Bolton) takes him to the local vet, hoping that Dr. Parker (John Barr) will dispose of the problem. "A boy with his complexion's gonna meet with some objections", states the sheriff.
Dr. Parker is out hunting so it's up to wife Meredith (Rebecca Vere) and teenage daughter Shelley (Emma Williams) to take charge of the boy. Known for her love of strays, Mrs. Parker takes a shine to the child and urges her husband to spare the creature. The bat child is re-named Edgar and Meredith sets about teaching him to be a productive member of society. This leads into the musical number "Show You a Thing or Two" which gently pokes fun at My Fair Lady. "A bit more schooling, a lot less drooling", Meredith advises Edgar as she educates him.
Incredibly quickly, Edgar learns to speak with a proper British accent, gets religion and is yearning to attend the town's revival meeting - the event of the year. Unfortunately things turn ugly when Dr. Parker becomes jealous of the boy. Soon family secrets, community intolerance and Edgar's lingering thirst for blood prove too much of an obstacle for his integration into the "Christian" community.
Part-Greek tragedy, part-gothic morality tale, but with plenty of laughs along the way, the show is a clever mix of every musical ever devised, with shades of Rocky Horror, Return to the Forbidden Planet, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Lion King amongst others. With a marvellous score, the musical styles are just as diverse, ranging from rock opera, hip-hop, tango, ballad and gospel - all firmly tongue in cheek - and complete with sly and witty lyrics that Cole Porter might have appreciated.
Deven May (the original Bat Boy) reprises his role, complete with pointy ears and fangs, giving a compelling and moving performance. Shunned by society, considered a freak, but desperate to gain acceptance he sings, "I want to meet my neighbours. I'm not some garden gnome. Why can't I make this world my own?"
With pathos, wit and exuberant energy, May personifies Bat Boy as he learns to walk, talk and love whilst struggling with his "beast inside". Deven May is magnificent in a role that seems made for him, as we see him develop from feral creature to polished Edgar to tragic hero. May's exceptional voice (even singing with fangs) and perfect comic timing, make him a joy to watch.
Special mention should also be given to Rebecca Vere, the perfectly proper Mrs. Parker, the stereotypical 50's mom or is she? With deadpan humour Ms. Vere is touchingly convincing in her love for Edgar. Emma Williams (Shelley Parker) is equally credible as she changes from spoiled rebellious teenager into mature woman in love. Their optimism for the future is beautifully captured in a rousing duet "Three Bedroom House" which showcases their outstanding voices.
With its quirky, provocative wit and clever pastiche of shows, Bat Boy the Musical has something for everyone. It is the story of Everyman. Who hasn't at one time or another felt like an outsider or a freak, or someone who doesn't belong? The show is funny, but there is an edge to the humour - and a more serious underlying message, if you want to look for one. It also has a wealth of villainous and comic characters, hilarious lyrics, great vocals and energetic performances.
"Bat Boy the Musical" is playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds until July 17th. It will preview at the Shaftesbury Theatre from August 18th, with a press opening on September 8th.
Reviewer: Julie-Ann Marshall