An unlikely title, an unlikely story, and an omnipresent societal challenge come together with an idiosyncratic mix of very accessible musical styles to make a show which rocks and pops and sparkles – particularly in the hands of this talented company. While it deals with some significant issues of tolerance, freedom and difference, humour is never far from the surface in Bat Boy The Musical, and the result is a thought provoking and enjoyable piece of theatre.
The story emerged out of a strange story in an even stranger American tabloid weekly a number of years ago, of a half boy, half bat found in a cave. We see him raised by a vet’s family, transformed by loving care into an articulate and cultured young man, but who was inevitably made the scapegoat for the ills of the fickle farmers of red-neck West Virginia. Through episodes of hypocrisy, jealousy, tenderness, fear, love and malevolence, the show steams to a melodramatic if not somewhat ludicrous denouement in a what Director Andy Ahrens calls “a sort of My Fair Lady meets Rocky Horror Show” style, to which I would add a touch of E.T.
This production features some slick and polished choreography (by Kerry Hauber), some excellent solo and ensemble singing and fine performances. Outstanding among these are Michelle Nightingale as Meredith Parker, Karen Sheldon as Mayor Maggie, Lucy Ellis as Shelley Parker, and most remarkably, Mark Stefanoff in the title role. He manages to portray a frightened freak with strikingly simian suppleness, yet appealing innocence, and to transmogrify into a charming young man, (with a very nice voice), but who has a dark secret. This is a difficult role to pull off convincingly, but he does it with elan and considerable talent.
Meanwhile in the pit, a band led by musical director Tammy Papps keeps the show moving along at a good pace. My only serious criticism is that the band often overwhelmed the singers, in spite of the fact that most of them were miked, and words were lost, which is a pity, because much of the humour is in the songs. This may well be modified as the season progresses. Set by John Dempsey is simple and effectively adequate, and lighting by Chris Kemp is just right.
Andy Ahrens is a creative and talented director who has a chain of excellent productions of courageous choices to his credit, having brought shows such as Suessical the Musical and Urinetown to the Adelaide amateur stage. Without any doubt he can now add Bat Boy to his list of considerable successes.
The Hills Musical Company presents
Bat Boy The Musical
Story and Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming | Music and Lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe
Director Andy Ahrens
Venue: Stirling Community Theatre | Avenue Road, Stirling
Dates: 29 October - 13 November, 2010
Times: Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8pm
Matinée: Sunday 7 November at 2pm
Tickets: $25 - $15
Bookings: BASS 131 246 | www.bass.net.au