Musical theatre is one of my great passions. Devon offers quiet cities, leafy countrysides and a sandy beach or three but little in the way of large theatre productions; though the 2014 Rock of Ages tour did stop at Torquay’s Princess Theatre with an outstanding production which easily surpassed the 2012 film adaptation. With this new blog as a creative outlet I figured it was time to try my hand at writing a review of a theatre production. Jim Steinman’s “Bat Out Of Hell” seems like a great place to start. The story sees classic hits from the Bat Out Of Hell album trilogy (and a few lesser-known tracks) tell a story of love, loss, break up and make up – with charismatic characters, power ballads a plenty, bats, bike crashes and somewhat saucy scenes of youthful lust.
I have loved the music of Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf for many years since discovering “Dead Ringer For Love” on a Soft Metal compilation cassette at age five or so. Greatest hits albums followed of course, as did both of their back catalogues, a collection of tracks spanning almost five decades of rock n’ roll magic. I have longed for the day when these classic tracks would make it to the stage. I began drafting a plot of my own several years ago, experimenting with the idea of heaven and hell, reincarnation, immortality and the afterlife. Though originally based around the music of the Eagles, the music of Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf seemed more appropriate. The plot fit well with lesser-known tracks but I was struggling to incorporate some of the essential hits. The announcement of this production saw the project put on hold indefinitely, though it is something I may revisit perhaps with some original compositions or tracks from another artist; you can’t have too many rock musicals after all.
Saturday July 29th saw myself and family head to London for the matinee performance at the London Coliseum where the show resides until 22 August. It previewed at the Manchester Opera House from February and moved to London in June, where the initial run of dates were extended due to extremely high demand. The show moves to Toronto, opening at the Ed Mirvish theatre in October. Nearly fifty years in the making, the musical began as Baal – ideas from which progressed to ‘The Dream Engine’, a political piece protesting contemporary issues of the time. The song “Who Needs The Young” originates in this play and features here, as does “Hot Summer Night” and the opening number “Love and Death and an American guitar” – remixed as “Wasted Youth” on Bat Out of Hell II, but originally featured on Jim Steinman’s 1981 Bad For Good album. Jim Steinman’s 1977 musical Neverland saw the concept of The Dream Engine become less political and more like a futuristic rock retelling of Peter Pan. Much of that structure remains in Bat Out Of Hell, including the spoken word piece “Nocturnal Pleasure”.
Set in the post-apocalyptic dystopian city of obsidian under the dictatorship of Falco (Rob Fowler), the story sees Strat (Andrew Polec) – leader of the lost, a rebellious tribe of youths eternally frozen at the age of 18 – fall for Raven (Christina Bennington), the daughter of Falco and discontented wife Sloane (Sharon Sexton). A day prior to her 18th birthday and with an overwhelming desire for freedom, Raven is permitted a rare outing on which she in turn falls for Strat and he encourages her to run from her home, escaping the clutches of Falco who later uses The Lost in an attempt to locate and regain control of his daughter. There are a few plot twists along the way, though to continue risks spoilers and to give anything away would do the show an injustice.
I won’t comment on the stage set because, despite having some of the best seats in the house, total sight loss means I’m unable to partake in what I’m told was a real visual treat. I’m “Blind as a Bat” if you will. That does put me at a slight disadvantage (particularly when there are pretty dancers to be seen), but it does offer a unique perspective and allow me to appreciate the musicianship of a band and the ability of a cast to deliver dialogue and insane vocals that can be felt as much as heard; deep emotion that can only be stirred by a piece of beautiful music and a performer who is not only capable of putting on a visual show, but who is also a phenomenal singer in their own right. It’s somewhat rare to find a cast in which every performer regardless of role is equal in vocal ability, but such is the case here.
Standout tracks include “Objects in the Rearview Mirror” performed by the trio Jagwire (Dom Hartley-Harris), Ledoux (Giovanni Spano) and Blake (Patrick Sullivan) and “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”, on which Danielle Steers’ vocal as Zahara is powerful as it is beautifully controlled. Falco and Sloane’s renditions of “Who Needs The Young” and “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” provide some comic relief while managing to demonstrate equally outstanding vocal ability. But for me, it was Raven’s solo number “Heaven Can Wait” which stole the show. It was chilling, uplifting and deeply moving all at once and note perfect throughout. If I never see bat out of hell again, the memory of that song will remain with me forever as one of the most profound and heartfelt experiences I will ever have sat in a theatre seat. The band are phenomenal too, drummer Elliott Henshaw and keyboardists Jamie Safir, Robert Emery and Steve Corley in particular.
For now the run is limited. Hopefully in time Bat Out Of Hell will make a welcome and permanent return to the UK. If there was ever a show deserving of the longevity of the likes of We Will Rock You (which enjoyed a twelve year run at London’s Dominion Theatre), it is this. Yes, it’s over the top. But… “You have to go over the top to know what’s on the other side”. Fantastically loud renditions of some of rock’s greatest records mixed with some of Rock’s sweetest ballads, intermingled with dialogue and wrapped around a great story make for a raucous, emotional and truly unforgettable three hours. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the songwriting genius that is Jim Steinman. Add a world-class cast and you have Bat Out of Hell, the Musical. You’d be daft not to go and see it.