by Valerie Cardinal
After seeing Bat Boy The Musical, I tried to explain its basic premise to my mother, who asked me, “Can they actually make a good show out of that?” Yes, a production based on a 1992 Weekly World News story about a half-man half-bat creature found in a cave can be compelling!
In Bat Boy The Musical, the creature is found in a small hick town in West Virginia. He’s taken in, cared for and educated by the family of the local veterinarian, but his odd appearance and occasional bloodthirsty tendencies lead to some difficulty in being accepted by the suspicious townsfolk.
Although productions of Bat Boy have been mounted off-Broadway and in London’s West End, it’s well suited to a smaller stage like the Gladstone. Even though the musical is very fun, Bat Boy is surprisingly dark and has no qualms about veering into the tragic.
The ten-person cast is quite large for the Gladstone’s small stage, but director Dave Dawson spreads out the action well. There’s even enough space for a five-person live band, hidden inside a cave in a corner of the stage. Above them, an extra platform created yet another surface to play on. The impressive use of space was best seen in the musical number leading into intermission, in which every performer is utilized. It manages to feel very grand in such a small space. Maggie Matian’s set design is very functional, setting up the West Virginian landscape with just a few pine trees.
The performers, most of them playing multiple roles, kept the energy high despite the small Wednesday audience. Rebecca Perry in particular was amazing, and had a standout moment as an Evangelical-style preacher, finding just the right combination of amazing vocals, energy and mania.
Zachary Counsil as the Bat Boy, named Edgar by his new family, deals well with his character’s internal struggle between beast-like instinct and desire to fit in. Counsil manages to toe the line between adorable and hideous before Edgar’s evolution into a verbose scholar with a fancy accent.
Although Rebekah Shirey started off speaking too fast and eating her words, she eased into the role of the vet’s wife as soon as the singing started. Her sweetness and sincere love for Edgar brought some light to the show.
David B. Brown as Mrs. Taylor, Batboy the Musical’s hysterical dame, is absurdly funny. Alessia Lupiano’s innocent Shelly, the vet’s daughter, pulls off the romantic lead role without fading into the background. Kris Joseph as the veterinarian alternates believably between a schlub just trying to win back his wife and a conniving villain.
Most of the musical numbers were well performed and catchy. The only one that felt out of place was one featuring multiple stuffed animals and some pretty overt sexuality. Although it’s very funny, it goes a little too literal with its theme of interspecies romance and cheapens the relationship between Bat Boy and Shelly somewhat.
Bat Boy the Musical is well acted but also well written, with a good balance of catchy musical numbers, humor and seriousness. The best thing about Bat Boy is that even though it touches on interesting conflict and big issues, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which can be seen in Leslie Glen’s choreography.
With Bat Boy the Musical, Black Sheep Theatre definitely fulfills its mandate to bring something original to the stage in Ottawa. Bat Boy is a wacky, campy production, at times darkly funny, at others touching and at other times just dark, but it deserves a larger audience than it got for its opening.
Runtime: 2 hours + 20-minute intermission