Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bat Boy:The Musical, Great Lakes Theater Festival

(Mitch McCarrell, top, as Edgar attacks Lynn Robert Berg as Dr. Parker)

If a bat is the least cuddly of all animals, and it is (Hey, a rat with wings? Nothing else comes close), then it stands to reason that a half bat-half boy would be equally revolting. But in Bat Boy: The Musical, now at the Great Lakes Theater Festival, that reasonable thinking is put to the test as the audience grows to know and love this sharp-=toothed, winged adolescent.

This is admittedly a risky show choice for GLTF, a mainstream group that usually traffics in Shakespeare, not in raucous musicals based on sensational tabloid stories. But that’s where Bat Boy got its start, as a front-page headline in the Weekly World News, complete with an artfully patched together photo of the supposed freak of nature.

Set in Hope Falls, West Virginia, and peopled largely by down-home hillbilly types with double digit IQs, the show is supposed to be a blood-drenched, southern gothic take on the struggle of an outsider to gain acceptance. But some of the major players never quite catch the vibe of the show, declining to take enough chances with the material, and as a result this Bat Boy never manages to soar.

Once the pointy-eared boy is found in a cave, he is taken in by veterinarian Dr. Parker and his family, named Edgar, and eventually is taught to speak the King’s English (thanks to BBC tapes). It seems he might be destined to join the human race. But the town’s cows are thin and dying, and the drooling rabble suspect that the Edgar has been helping himself to bovine blood cocktails.

The book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, and music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe channel other Broadway musicals (such as My Fair Lady and The Lion King) and offer plenty of chances for actors to make this funny-ghastly story all their own. But some of the actors don’t seem to buy into this outrageous concept and appear to be vamping until A Midsummer Night’s Dream gets started in rep, in a couple weeks.

A happy exception to this is Mitch McCarrell, who fully embodies Edgar in every gesture and facial expression, while delivering his songs with snap and strength. Some of the secondary townspeople also have some hilarious moments, including Dane Agostinis as Rick, Lorraine and others, and Eduardo Placer as Bud, Daisy and others.

The authors and director Victoria Bussert have fun with this double casting, as characters whip off a trucker hat to reveal a wig as they instantly change characters and genders. And among those playing multiple roles, Fabio Polanco hits the highest note as Reverend Billy Hightower, leading the company in a great Act Two opener “A Joyful Noise.” Also, the choreography by Marin Cespedes kicks the show in gear during most of the musical numbers.

But Lynn Robert Berg is a snooze as Dr. Parker, missing scads of opportunities to crank up the volume of his character’s mendacity and really cut loose. Similarly, Lynn Allison is too bland as the doc’s wife Meredith, the woman who defends Edgar against the predations of the townspeople. This lack of pizzazz seems to run in the family, because Erin Childs as the Parker’s daughter Shelley never makes her teenage crush on Edgar seem as agonizingly inappropriate as it should. And none of them sing with the necessary flair or assurance.

Those tepid performances seem to reflect the static , unimaginative set designed by Jeff Herrmann, a pair of staircases in a half-hearted hillside decorated by overly plump (for this show, at least) plastic cows.

The result is a mixed bag: moments of high camp and hilarity interspersed with arid patches. And that’s too bad, because when done right, BB:TM can be a bloody riot.

Bat Boy: The Musical

Through May 16 at the Great Lakes Theater Festival,

Hanna Theatre, 2067 East 14th Street,


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