Theater Review: ‘Bat Out of Hell’ at London Coliseum

By Jonathan Spira on 28 August 2017
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LONDON—Forty years ago, Michael Lee Aday, known better by his stage name Meat Loaf, and composer Jim Steinman, after failing to produce a futuristic rock opera based loosely on Peter Pan that would have been called “Neverland,” released an album that became one of the best-selling albums of all time: “Bat Out of Hell.”

Perhaps better late than never, Steinman finished his musical, using the same “Bat Out of Hell” title as the album. It premiered at the Manchester Opera House earlier this year and moved to the London Coliseum, home of the English National Opera and, with 2,359 seats, the largest theater in London.

Don’t expect Meat Loaf, however. Rather, meet Strat (American Andrew Polec in his West End debut), a member of The Lost, a group of children who have been condemned to remain 18 forever in a dystopian future. Tinkerbelle is here, in the form of Tink, a younger boy who is in love with Strat and jealous of his relationship with just about anyone.

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Society is ruled by Falco (unrelated to the brilliant late Austrian singer and rapper who was the subject of another musical, “Falco Meets Amadeus”), who keeps the lost boys and girls in the city’s sewers and whose daughter, Raven (Christina Bennington), a Rapunzel/Goth mashup confined to her father’s high castle, naturally falls in love with Strat.

Raven is challenged to correctly answer the question, “On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red rose?” and naturally succeeds towards the end of the show.

Meat Loaf and Steinman’s songs are the main attraction but the musical has legs and is in many respects the original album art – replete with red background, motorbikes with fiery exhausts, and music as loud as a Boeing 747’s engines. While comparisons to “Mamma Mia” and “We Will Rock You” are natural, “Bat Out of Hell” is far less contrived and was originally conceived in this form (reportedly, lawyers for JM Barrie’s estate in London showed little if any interest in granting Steinman the rights to use copyrighted material from Peter Pan for the project, resulting in the move to album form). Unlike these two, the flow is far more natural rather than leaving theatergoers wondering how the composers would place hit songs to round out the plot.

Rob Fowler is a tad cartoonish as Falco but somehow a cartoon villain feels appropriate here. Danielle Steers as Zahara, who has friends on both sides, has a commanding presence and I suspect we’ll see more of her in years to come.

While legendary baseball announcer Phil Rizzuto, who died in 2007, wasn’t of course in the cast, the baseball play-by-play call for the song “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” that he originated, which in fact is a play-by-play for a sexual act in a car, was featured prominently.

Even a Buick has a starring role, eliciting perhaps the only laugh in the show when it crashes into the orchestra pit and members of the orchestra wander up on stage, somewhat dazed, the conductor with a visibly damaged baton.

The music recalls Steinman’s ability to utilize everyday phrases such as the basis of what became hit songs – e.g. Bat Out of Hell, You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth, and, for the automotively inclined, “Objects in the Rearview Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are” – but also includes many lesser-known works that appeared in subsequent albums.

The show’s dramatic stagecraft, lighting, and special effects are powerful and are a worthy match for the music of Steinman and Meat Loaf.

“Bat Out of Hell” succeeds in part thanks to the title of Steinman’s songs. While leading musicals have a compelling plot, memorable music, and a commanding stage presence, this one, lacking anything but a thin plot, succeeds on the other counts. After all, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.

THE DETAILS

Bat Out of Hell
London Coliseum through August 22 (returning to London in 2018)
Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto October 14-December 3, 2017
Runtime: 2 hours and 30 minutes
www.batoutofhellmusical.com

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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