Bat Out of Hell: The Musical – Review – Manchester Opera House
By Roger Crow, April 2017
All stage fans have their dream musicals. Buffy’s Once More with Feeling is one of mine, while the other has been a rumour, a work in progress that always seemed to be in the planning stage: Bat out of Hell – The Musical.
Then I heard it was finally a reality and when it premiered in Manchester, I promised myself I’d catch it one day. But at the back of my mind I feared it would be another We Will Rock You: a dystopian future; a corrupt, fascist government, and two lovers who kept bursting into a band’s back catalogue. In short, a contrived jukebox musical.
But the difference here is the ‘Bat’ albums were always the soundtracks to unmade musicals, so it’s more of a natural fit as the boy-meets-girl story unfolds. Fast forward to now, and after a 75-mile trek, the wife and I are sat in Manchester’s Opera House waiting for curtain up. The set looks like an industrial wreck torn from the pages of Heavy Metal comic; the couple on stage with an impressive motorcycle seem like they’re just having a chat. Their indifference is deliberate.
“I remember everything!” yells ripped hero Strat (Andrew Polec) as the lights die and the stage plunges into darkness. It’s so sudden, I’m shocked and thrilled.
“A masterfully designed multi-level feast for the eyes”
We’re off. The stage show I waited 30 years for has gone from zero to 100mph in a few seconds. I have a rictus grin for the first half. My dream show doesn’t just match my expectations but exceeds them. Ten minutes into this matinee and I’m wondering if if I can get tickets for the evening performance. I get goosebumps during some of the numbers and can’t believe the quality of the vocals during some favourite tracks.
When I first moved to Yorkshire, I played those Meat Loaf albums on a loop. They were the soundtrack to many journeys back to the Midlands to see the folks. Everyone has their own BOOH stories, those personal interpretations of the lyrics. Seeing them enacted on that stunning stage is like a dozen Christmases rolled into one.
There are many stars in this show, and that set is one of them. A masterfully designed multi-level feast for the eyes by John Bausor. We’re in the city of Obsidian, a futuristic Manhattan cut from the same cloth as John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. It’s brilliantly engineered, revealing new depths and concealed compartments for the duration. Just when I think I know everything the set can do, it morphs into something else, from gritty street to opulent dining room.
The penthouse of controlling, brutal Falco (Rob Fowler) is gorgeous. His stunning daughter Raven (Christina Bennington) falls for the permanently young hero Strat, while taking dream suppressants, courtesy of her mum Sloane (Sharon Sexton). The story takes our star cross’d lovers on an odyssey connected by that astounding soundtrack.
“There are so many highlights”
Most musicals have that one killer track, whether it’s Dreamgirls’ ‘And I Am Telling You’ or Wicked’s ‘Defying Gravity’. This has at least 18 of them. I resist checking the programme’s song listing for fear of my favourites being excluded.
While ‘Tonight Is What it Means to be Young’ (from 1984 cult offering Streets of Fire) would have worked perfectly, sadly it doesn’t feature. There’s such a wealth of other old Steinman classics, I can live with it. Songs that provided the soundtrack to millions of peoples’ lives are performed with the sort of gusto usually reserved for show finales.
The first act closes with the eponymous tune. My partner Rachel and I think the same thing: has it done a Wicked and peaked with the standout song by half time? Thankfully there are so many more highlights, we needn’t have worried.
The cast are terrific. Andrew Polec matches Meat Loaf’s gobsmacking vocal range. He looks like he’s stepped from Richard Corben’s cover of the first album. Rob Fowler’s a perfect antagonist, with an equally astonishing voice. He pulls off a stunt so literally breathtaking near the finale, I’m astounded. And there are a few of those jaw-dropping moments, including a superb gag involving a Cadillac and raunchy foot-tapper ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’.
“A sexy, funny, epic masterpiece”
So while I marvel at the set and revel in the songs and performances, I wonder if I’ll get a sucker punch moment that plucks the heart strings like a double bass. When a superb version of ‘Objects in the Rear View Mirror’ arrives, it proves hugely touching. While five numbers leave me cold, in a show with 23 outstanding tracks that’s an incredible hit rate. Or to put it another way, 18 out of 23 ain’t bad.
If great songs are gasoline, some musicals have the tank of a Mini Cooper: they burn though them and are spent in an hour. This show has the fuel capacity of the space shuttle’s external fuel tank. By the time the show finishes, everyone is on their feet for a well deserved ovation. The couple in front of us on are on their third viewing, while the pensioner to our right looks like she’s won the lottery.
I’m amazed Steinman chose to give his show its premiere in Manchester. But as it nears the end of its northern run before transferring to London, I’d say the ads aren’t large enough to do it justice.
It’s a sexy, funny, epic masterpiece that justified my 30-year wait. I can only hope it does well enough in London and on Broadway to justify an IMAX movie, and preferably without messing up the screenplay to accommodate its main star, like Rock of Ages.
For crying out loud, go and see it.