Bat Boy the Musical

Story and Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Fleming, Music and Lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe
Shaftesbury Theatre
(2004)

Bat Boy, an off-Broadway hit last year as chronicled for the British Theatre Guide by Julie-Ann Marshall, has hit London. It is quite something for what started as a small-scale show to fill the 1,400 seat Shaftesbury Theatre but Jerry Springer The Opera made a successful transition so it is not impossible.

To clear up any doubts: this is an original piece based on a weird American news headline. It has nothing to do with either Bruce Wayne or Meatloaf.

Bat Boy is very likeable with rocky songs, classic one-liners and a plot that gets surprisingly dark, finishing with a bloodbath finale more familiar to habitués of Shakespeare than musical theatre.

It centres on Edgar, the eponymous hero, who is dug out of a cave in the appropriately named Hope Falls and then adopted by the Parkers. Deven May, who starred in America, is remarkable as the caged, convulsive, dysfunctional newcomer to civilised society.

The two Parker ladies, both with good voices - Mother Meredith (Rebecca Vere) and daughter Shelley (Emma Williams) - soon come to love the youth. In no time at all they give him an education that means that he has the words and etiquette of an improbably polite youth.

Old habits die hard for the bloodthirsty youth though, especially with evilly jealous Doctor Parker, played with gleeful malificence by the excellent John Barr, egging him on.

when a family of children are killed and cattle die of malnutrition, the townsfolk need a scapegoat and the false teeth and Dr Spock ears are too good to miss.

After some witty and shocking twists and a love story that helps the show hit a zenith in a lovely duet between Bat Boy and Shelley, the tragedy is played out to a touching conclusion.

The production qualities are generally high. The design mixes good use of both projections and a revolve with a simple eerie screen-based set. The supporting cast, many cross-dressing are of variable quality with the best, Maurey Richards, who demonstrates a fine voice as a bible-bashing preacher.

Director Mark Wing-Davey is a dab hand at finding witty touches that complement the humour of the book. There is one problem, though, as potential confusion results from the failure to distinguish clearly between Dr Parker and another doctor with similar looks.

The songs fall into two genres. In one mood, there are catchy rock tunes such as Show You Thing or Two and the hard to forget signature tune, Hold Me Bat Boy. When it is more reflective, there are show-style solos such as A Home For You and Dance With Me Darling.

Above all, Bat Boy is fun. It contains good central performances, especially a very touching one from Deven May in the title role. The plot can be cartoon-like but with a very dark side that gives the show depth and even an element of social commentary. Without any big names, it may struggle to become a West End perennial but this 2½ hour rocky horror show deserves a long run.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher