Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical is a full-on, no holds barred show. It is not afraid to take risks, it is prepared to appear ridiculous and one has to admire that bravery. Sometimes these bets pay off and there are moments of stupendous, over-the-top brilliance. Most of these come in the songs that are on the Bat out of Hell album, when the spectacle and choreography seem to step up a gear. The original LP was about forty minutes long and this show runs a little under three hours including the interval.
All the tracks from 1977 are done well, and some of Jim Steinman’s other early songs fit in well. Surprisingly “It’s all coming back to me now” made famous by Celine Dion is a real highlight. However some of the other songs are saccharine, subpar Disney, teenage angst repackaged for the late middle aged.
The storyline is poor, difficult to follow and uninventive. The characters are all two dimensional, composite caricatures. Despite this, some of the performances are outstanding. Andrew Polec has the perfect rock bearing as Strat. Christina Bennington, who plays Raven, has a lovely voice and can act well, a more traditional musical might suit her talents better, I’d love to see her sing Sondheim. Rob Fowler is outstanding as Falco; a camp, overblown baddie – who can really sing. Perhaps it’s true that the devil has all the best tunes. Danielle Steers steals the show as Zahara, she has an amazing rock voice and rock attitude, she commands the stage whenever she sings.
The set is excellent, the huge stage at the Dominion allowing it to be up to four different areas, all at the same time. The special effects are among the best I have ever seen in a stage musical, although I suspect that those who sit in the front few rows miss parts of the show because of the amount of dry ice rolling off the front of the stage. The choreography is mostly wonderful, especially in the big set pieces and the songs that end each half ensure that you leave the auditorium on a high.
The audience adored it. The cheering began when the first backing singer arrived on stage, even before the start of the show and there was an instant standing ovation at the end. I can understand why it is such a hit wherever it goes, it is a big overblown, melodramatic rock opera and it does that wonderfully well. I think it could have been even better if it cut the emotionally manipulative ballads and ran maybe an hour shorter.
Everything about this production is spectacular.
The 1950 film, on which it is based, won 7 Academy awards. George Gershwin won one for the best score, the stage show takes this and adds some of the best of his back catalogue; “The Man I Love”, “But not for me” and “They can’t take that away from me”. They are beautifully sung by Haydn Oakley and Zoe Rainey.
Alan Jay Lerner won the Oscar for best story. This has been kept with just a little more detail added. It also won the awards for best costume and best sets. The costumes here are beautiful, postwar in style and Paris elegant. The sets are wonderfully inventive, they could be Jerry Mulligans drawings brought to life. They are outlines of the Paris skyline being sketched on blank backdrops as they are moved into place, a beautiful concordance of the 1950s and the 21st century.
Wonderful as all of the above is, the real stars of this show are the choreography and the principal dancers. Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope are both classically trained ballet dancers, he in New York and she in London. The dance routines are dazzling. The show opens with a 7 minute number where Fairchild arrives on the scene as Jerry Mulligan, full of vitality. Cope’s part as Lise builds more slowly and she comes fully into her own in the second act.
The director and choreographer is Christopher Wheeldon. The final numbers of the show are nothing short of inspirational. “I’ll build a stairway to Paradise” is a classic 50’s, exhibitionist, camp show stopper. This is followed by the beautiful ballet inspired “An American in Paris” equally good, yet completely different.
This is a joyous reimagining of a classic Hollywood musical and, as you can probably tell, it stole my heart.