(Pat Miller as Bat Boy.)
In order to do a great production of this hilarious musical about a half-boy/half-bat, named Edgar by his adoptive parents, you need an actor playing him who is willing to throw himself bodily and every other way into the role. Indeed, this is a human-animal hybrid that even director and puppet creator Julie Taymor might find daunting (there were no human bats in the The Lion King on Broadway).
But not to worry. Blank Canvas has the estimable Pat Miller as Edgar, and from the first moment when you first spy him hanging upside down high above the stage, you are never in doubt about this creature’s bat-like qualities. Thrashing in his cage after he’s caught by some local yahoos, Miller ‘s thin frame, bald head and bug-eyed visage are creepy indeed. And this makes his transition to a rather erudite young man later on all the more effective and amusing.
Inspired by an actual story in the Weekly World News about such a boy-bat supposedly being found in a cave, the show (book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe) trots out a number of serious themes including intolerance, forgiveness, and love of our fellow mammals no matter how goddamn ugly they are. It's all wrapped up in the guise of a Halloween howler and, under the direction of Patrick Ciamacco, this production gets virtually everything right.
Not only does Miller look like a bat, the rabid townspeople (played by Kristy Cruz, Stephen Berg, Jacob Damsky, Colleen McCaugh, Michael Crowley and Venchise Glenn) look like your nightmare version of hick town cretins—they are the scrapings from the clogged filter of our gene pool.
Despite the small town’s urge to kill the bat boy, Meredith Parker, wife of the local vet, finds Edgar to be rather adorable. She dresses him up and then teaches him English from NPR tapes that give Edgar a cultured British accent. As Meredith, Amiee Collier provides the best singing voice in the cast and is quite funny as she tries to avoid her husband Thomas (Brian Altman).
The Parker’s daughter Shelley (Stephanie Harden) also grows close to Edgar and their relationship is culminated in the showstopper when Edgar and Shelley cohabit as the Greek god Pan (Berg) sings and a gallery of woodland creatures (puppets) sing “Children, Children.” This Pan is a half goat with a whole hard-on that bounces merrily as they croon: “Choose your mate and let’s see what we create!”
Finally, the reason for Meredith’s emotional distance from her hubby is explained in a witty animation sequence designed by Noah Hrbek, which answers a lot of expository questions.
While the talented five-piece orchestra often drowns out the song lyrics, sung with varying degrees of competence, enough is heard to keep the campy fun in high gear—right up to the Shakespearian ending with dead bodies littering the stage. Director Ciamacco has perfect pitch for surreal stories such as this, and once again his sprightly, inventive sense of humor shines forth.
Bat Boy, The Musical
Through October 31 at Blank Canvas Theatre, 78th Street Studio, W. 78th Street, 440-941-0458.