Big Music, Big Voices, Big Theatrics
Note: Bat out of Hell has returned to Toronto after its run here a year ago. It will be at the Ed Mirvish Theatre October 16 to November 3, 2018. Andrew Polec continues in the lead role, but some cast members have changed since this review was written in November 2017.
A full-sized car rolls off the stage into the orchestra pit, a motorcycle explodes, and fire blazes high in the air. But the special effects pale in comparison to the amazing voices in Bat out of Hell, now on stage at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto.
This show is Jim Steinman’s baby: He wrote it in the 1970s, when the Bat out of Hell album came out. If you’re not familiar with Jim Steinman’s name, you should be. He has written songs made famous by Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler, Air Supply and Celine Dion, among others. Not a bad list of singers. His songs aren’t just rock and roll ditties, they are big, full, rich, rousing rock anthems. Anyway, the point is, Steinman has waited a long time for someone to produce his Bat out of Hell musical. And we need to be clear: this is not another “juke box musical” with a contrived plot forced together around an assortment of rock songs.
However, having said that, Steinman’s plot is rather strange. It’s set in the year 2030, 13 years down the road. But we need to remember that he wrote it 40 years ago, projecting 53 years into the future. In that light, his prediction was fairly accurate. Infrastructure has failed and the rich are in charge in this dystopian tale. Just to make sure that we grasp the plot, a newspaper, The Obsidian Times, dated 2030, is left in each seat of the theatre.
Falco is a very rich man, whose money gives him great power. In fact, he is the commander-in-chief, owning the whole city and manipulating everything. He hates the gang of young people, who live in the sewer, calling themselves The Lost. The gang members are stuck at age 18; they will never grow older. (This is an allusion to Peter Pan’s lost boys who never grew up. Steinman had previously written a musical called Neverland.)
Falco’s daughter, Raven, is celebrating her 18th birthday, so her parents are having a party. But it seems like the only people in attendance are the robot-like servants who wear powdered wigs like French aristocrats in the 1700s. (Yes, I said it was strange.) Falco’s wife, Sloan, appears very bored with her rich life and probably drinks too much. Raven is being rebellious when she falls in love with the sewer gang leader, Strat. So, can an 18 year old girl who will go on to be 28, 38, 48, find true love with an 18 year old boy who will always be 18? That’s the gist of the plot, with some confusing elements tossed in.
But really, that doesn’t matter, when you hear the voices singing Jim Steinman’s legendary score.
This is a Canadian show, produced by Randy Lennox and others, and funded by Lennox’s employer, Bell Media. He admits he put it together in Manchester, England and then moved it to London’s West End because of the tax advantages there. He is counting on a successful run in Toronto, with plans to take it to other cities and ultimately to Broadway. The cast is from the UK, and it appears that some of their best have come to Toronto for this run.
The voices in this production are stunning, more than able to do justice to Steinman’s amazing score. Andrew Polec, as Strat, belts out the Meat Loaf numbers perfectly. The audience loves it when he delivers the spoken line “On a hot summer night would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red rose?” from the song “You Took the Words Right Out of my Mouth”. Christina Bennington, as Raven, sings beautifully with a wide range, giving an honest rendition of Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”. Her voice soars effortlessly.
Together, Polec and Bennington sing Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” in a heartfelt duet, showing the dynamic chemistry between them.
Rob Fowler, as Falco, has an amazingly powerful voice, and Sharon Sexton, as Sloan, has equally strong vocals. Their duet “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” in a 1970s convertible is thrilling.
The key characters in the cast have strong vocal talent, demonstrating their great range in the familiar Steinman anthems. The singing is shared in many of the numbers; I assume that the big rock songs are vocally challenging, so they are spread around to keep everyone’s voice in top condition. We hear the favourites, such as “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”, “All Revved up with No Place to Go”, “I’d Do Anything for Love, but I Won’t Do That”, “For Crying Out Loud, You Know I Love You” and of course, “Bat of out Hell”, among others.
The orchestra is outstanding – really loud but not deafening, as you feel it vibrate throughout the theatre’s excellent sound system. The dance is captivating, thanks to the intricate choreography by Canadian dancer Emma Portner.
Bat out of Hell, with its futuristic story, reminds me of the Queen musical We Will Rock You, but it probably has more in common with The Who’s Tommy.
I am so impressed with the iconic music and inspiring voices that I am more than willing to forgive the strange plot. If you are a fan of Jim Steinman’s songs then you will love this production, simply for the outstanding and powerful vocalists.
Photo Left: Andrew Polec as Strat and Christina Bennington as Raven. Photo by Spectacular.
Photo Right: Andrew Polec as Strat, Phoebe Hart as Bessamey & Isaac Edwards as Denym. Photo by Spectacular.
Bat out of Hell continues with eight shows a week until January 7, 2018, at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria St., Toronto. Call Ticket King 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.
Note: When you look for tickets, be sure you are on www.Mirvish.com, where prices range from $29 to $225. Be careful not to purchase on scalper websites.
I would like to acknowledge Keith Tomasek’s podcast The Inadequate Life where he interviewed Randy Lennox. I included some information from that podcast in this review. http://theinadequatelife.com/president-bell-media/
Bat out of Hell
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jim Steinman
Directed by Jay Scheib
Musical Direction by Michael Reed
Choreographed by Emma Portner
Performed by Andrew Polec, Christina Bennington, Rob Fowler, Sharon Sexton, Aran MacRae, Danielle Steers, Billy Lewis Jr., Giovanni Spano, Patrick Sullivan, et al
Produced by Bell Media, Randy Lennox, Michael Cohl, et al.
Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto
October 14, 2017 to January 7, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson