As house lights dim, the darkened stage lights up to a setting somewhere in imagination. Suddenly, with deafening decibles, lazer beams, and frantic movement, we are transported at bat-out-of-hell-warp-speed to Obsidian, a utopia headed by a dictator (Donald Trump???). Falco rules with harsh authority. At least the trip is musical. As we’re wisked on our way, composer Jim Steinman’s opus “All Revved Up With No Place To Go” blasts in our ears.
Well, we aren’t going anywhere, physically at least. For 2 hours and 40 minutes (interval included) the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto is rocking to a number of songs linked to pop singer MeatLoaf’s 40-year old mega bestselling album “Bat Out of Hell”. This is Wagnerian opera with a Shakespearean type plot for the digital era.
Illusions of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys come to mind with the Neverland intrigue playing more like traditional musical theatre than the crop of “jukebox musicals” now part of the theatrical heritage of Broadway and the West End.
As in Abba’s “Mamma Mia” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” the “greatest hits” are interwoven through the story structure. This cagey manipulation delivers a freshness to the familiar songs in a new setting. Memory stimulation is also heightened by the addition of fairytale and “West Side Story” elements that tell a tale of tormented love.
Steinman has added two new Andrew Lloyed Webber style songs to tracks from the three Bat Out of Hell albums along with the single hit “Dead Ringer for Love”. Souped up motorbikes zipping around the stage signify the art work of the first Bat album. Collectively, its a nostalgic extravaganza for hard core fans who are giving the show shout out bear hugs.
American Andrew Polec, making his debut in the British production, has a charismatic hold on the character Strat, leader of the Lost. He has eyes for Raven, daughter of Falco, who has her locked in her bedroom. As Raven, Christina Bennington mixes moods ranging from vapid, to bratty and innocent. Together, their voices blend, in solos and duets, singing Steinman’s demanding compositions (he also wrote the lyrics and book).
Rob Fowler infuses Falco with a veneer of cruelty, though inwardly there’s the vulnerability of a proud papa protecting his daughter. Frustration and agitation is etched in Sharon Sexton’s take as wife and mother. As feuding parents, Fowler and Sexton give a sense of drama, and vocal fireworks to the narrative.
Danielle Steers stands out as Zahara, a cheeky member of the gang who doesn’t tolerate any guff.
Without minimizing the efforts of the talented cast taking full advantage of the musical material, it could be argued Steinman’s lyrics and operatic score form the show’s dynamic odyssey. “Bat Out Of Hell” has a life of its own. Damn the critics, fans will keep this show percolating. Demand for tickets has resulted in an extension of the North American premiere engagement at the Ed Mirvish Theatre inToronto where it continues through January 7.