Updated: Oct 18, 2022
Michael Cohl, Tony Smith, David Sonenberg
October 4-15, 2022; 2hr 40min
This batshit bonkers extravaganza is not for the faint-hearted nor the theatrically timid. But then neither was the phenomenon that was Meatloaf, or indeed his epic songwriter, Jim Steinman.
Not a jukebox musical in the traditional sense, Bat out of Hell was conceptualised as a show by Steinman, before being realised as a concept album in 1977 (with its two sequels in 1993 and 2006). There follows a degree of coherence in terms of story and song (not always, but often) that is uncommon in the world of jukebox musicals. And this, in essence, is the thread that holds it together when all else threatens to tear it, violently and compulsively, limb from limb.
It’s Peter Pan, with Romeo and Juliet, even Dracula in small part. Steinman has no problem with unashamed borrowing. And these elements of dramatic familiarity lend their weight to the narrative and the characters between the stunningly-performed power-ballad duets. My head tells me it’s a paper-thin jukebox nonsense plot. My heart tells me it’s a true epic. It’s love, death and rock and roll.
There’s a refreshing kind of self-awareness about this show and the idea of rock as melodrama. Truly theatrical, particularly the first act, the best moments combine Brechtian techniques with expert rock and roll. The show begins with an arresting monologue, Love, Death and the American Guitar taken from Steinman’s Bad for Good album, performed with vigorous intensity tonight by the female lead, Kellie Gnauk as Raven (originally performed by the male lead). It makes no sense; it isn’t supposed to, but the mood is set. Hedonism, eternal youth, Fender guitars, motorcycles, rock and roll.
Glenn Adamson (LIPA-trained, for the locals) is immense as the Peter Pan character, Strat. His title track is a particularly dynamically deranged fantasy sequence at the end of Act 1, with all the vocal horsepower of his Harley Davidson.
Other dramatic and musical moments are stolen by Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton as Raven’s parents, disillusioned power couple Falco and Sloane. Paradise by the Dashboard Light is a directorial and performative masterpiece of lost youth, and half-remembered teenage sex re-enacted in middle age, with a car, a camera, Brechtian clowns, alienated audience and a powerful performance of a classic duet. This is what theatre is for. It’s not usually what musical theatre is for, but director Jay Scheib’s vision has me fully convinced that it should be.
With references to epic theatre, classic literature, and American pop-cultural mythology, it could be that this show is as rich in theatre as it is in music. I’m unsure how it all makes sense, or whether the audience really cares. But it has that golden effect reserved for the very best of musical theatre – it invites us, at once, to consider our own existence and to enjoy a fabulous night of entertainment.
What more is there?
More info and tickets here