Based on a 1992 Weekly World News tabloid story about a cave-dwelling half-bat, half-boy, Bat Boy: The Musical premiered in Los Angeles in 1997, followed by a nine-month Off-Broadway run in 2001. The show features a book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe, composer of hit musicals Legally Blonde and Heathers the Musical (currently running at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre).
Bat Boy: The Musical focuses on very serious themes (such as racism, religion, and teen sexuality), through the lens of highly stylized, almost comic-book-like campy script and rock score. RLT‘s Teens on Stage (TOS)/Teens Backstage (TBS) program has chosen projects of increasing boldness in recent years, including last year’s well-received Runaways. RLT youth theater and education director and Bat Boy director Linda O’Day Young continues to choose engaging material that challenges both the young performers and the audience. However, there are a few moments in this show that make the audience a tad squeamish, given the age of the performers.
Young’s strength with Bat Boy, as with other TOS/TBS productions, is finding the right show for the right cast at the right time. Once that perfect show is selected, her pitch-perfect casting allows the show to flourish. Even though these artists are young people, with varying levels of experience, Young does not appear to over-direct them. There is a vibrance, an energy, and a sense of pure joy in performing that you cannot teach. These young artists are developing their craft and having a good time doing so. That joy leaps into the audience and makes attendance absolutely worthwhile.
Some skeptics will say that going to a “Summer Camp Show” or a “Teen Show” or, if you are really dreadful, a “Kid’s Show” is a terrible waste of time and money. Oftentimes that proves to be correct. But not here. Many non-youth focused shows in the area could take notes on characterization, vocal performance, design, and technical execution from this band of merry misfits.
Music director Shane W. Dittmar has pulled strong performances out of the cast. The harmonies are solid, and the blends are mostly strong. The biggest struggle is hearing the vocals over the band. The cast is not wearing mics (nor should they be), but the band is cranked through the roof and overpowers many of the soloists. Dittmar’s band (drummer Isaiah Moore, bassist Joe Wimberley, and Dittmar on keys) give the show a palpable sense of energy and suspense through rock, rap, country, and gospel numbers.
Sue Hill’s choreography follows a cardinal rule: make your cast look terrific by giving them moves they can perform successfully. Act Two’s opener “A Joyful Noise” is a prime example of cast-meets-dance synchronicity.
Scenic designer Shannon Clark continues a career of inventive work by placing the entire show and its audience within an underground cave, rounded out with John Maruca’s realistic sound effects. E. Renee Eisenhour’s lighting design is a standout element, instantly giving the show a beautifully heightened sense of time and place.
Technical director Duncan Jenner has successfully fused these elements together to execute a cohesive concept. Though the show is supposedly set in Present Day, Jenny Mitchell’s costumes have a 1950s science-fiction quality that gives the piece a sense of timelessness. Only a couple of characters have costumes that seem inconsistent with this concept. Stage manager and former TOS regular Kinsey Watson does a fantastic job calling a show with a daunting number of lighting and sound cues and doing so with great precision.
These designers could not have achieved such perfection without the hard work and artistic excellence of the Teens Backstage crew: Sutton Bryan, Nick Bryson, Riley Francis, Tyler Gromow, Connor Lang, Kieran Lang, Ian Napier, and Hallie Turner. Theater skills are really being learned here, and it all shows on the stage.
In addition to the eight technicians, a cast of 23 teens make up the Bat Boy company of actors. Although the entire cast puts forth a tremendous amount of work, there are standouts. Local up-and-comer and RLT regular Parker Perry continues to impress with his physical performance skills and vocal work as the title character, channeling both Lord of the Rings’ Gollum and Patrick Stewart within the span of two hours.
Aubrey Clyburn shows great maturity with a believable Meredith; and her soprano is a delight to the ears, though sometimes overpowered by the band. Her comedic timing is high-caliber.
Oscar Sindemark’s Dr. Parker gives a very effective dramatic performance, but is not as vocally strong as some of the other leads. Eden Bartholomew balances sunshine and despair as Shelley, alongside Dylan Renken’s perfectly cartoonish Sherriff Reynolds, Bryanna Rosenberg’s wonderfully melodramatic Mrs. Taylor, Jared Scott’s hilarious and fully-developed Bud the Rancher, Anna Broadway’s feisty and funny Lorraine, and Noah Anderson’s astounding and riveting performance as the Reverend Hightower.
Special notice should be given to Ricky Hall’s beautiful vocal work as Pan (which could do with some added campiness) and Connor Gerney’s comedic mastery of Rick Taylor (though he sometimes struggles with this show’s vocal demands). It’s the doubling of Gerney as a character at the play’s conclusion that is quite baffling. His very recognizable look confuses the audience, which is not quite sure if his previous character has re-emerged or if he has taken on a new role, given that there’s been no change in hair or other defining features.
For the most part, the remainder of the ensemble show well-developed characters, infectious vocal and physical energy, and a commitment to selling what could easily be a cheesy and unfunny show. Special notice must be given to this cohesive ensemble: David Snee, Sofia Alba, Cameron Ransome, William Taylor, Gabriela Alba, Colton Hartzheim, Skysha Jones, Sam Heath, Emma Heath, Zoë Nagel, Ethan Sichel, and Jessica Soffian.
This is definitely a production worth seeing if you’re a fan of science fiction, musical comedy, and good campy fun. Come see these young artists before several of them ship off to theater programs around the state!
I place Bat Boy: The Musical in the PG-13 zone, due to some strong language, frightening images, mild drug use, and sexual content.
SECOND OPINION: July 17th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8072.
Raleigh Little Theatre Teens on Stage/Teens Backstage presents BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL at 7 p.m. July 20-22, 3 and 7 p.m. July 23, and p.m. July 24 in the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/.
SHOW: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/16-17/batboy.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/614316648718740/.
RLT‘s 2016-17 SEASON: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/16-17/index.html.
PRESENTER: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.
RLT YOUTH EDUCATION PROGRAM: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/learn/summer/teenconservatory.html and https://www.facebook.com/rltyep/.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows.
NOTE 2: There will be a talkback on Hypocrisy, Prejudice, and the Loneliness of Otherness after the show’s Friday, July 22nd, performance. Panel participants will include Bat Boy The Musical director Linda O’Day Young, Kelly Taylor from the LGBT Center of Raleigh, members of the center’s LGBT Youth Leadership Team, and and WRAL News executive producer Scott Nagel, plus members of the cast.
NOTE 3: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, July 24th, performance.
Bat Boy: The Musical (1997 Los Angeles, 2001 Off-Broadway, and 2004 West End musical): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=3013 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/72 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bat_Boy:_The_Musical (Wikipedia).
Laurence O’Keefe (music and lyrics): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/1209 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0614441/ (Internet Movie Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurence_O’Keefe_%28composer%29 (Wikipedia).
Keythe Farley (book): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/1207 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0267660/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keythe_Farley (Wikipedia).
Brian Flemming (book): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/1208 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0281830/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Flemming (Wikipedia).
Linda O’Day Young (director and RLT youth theater and education director): https://www.facebook.com/linda.young.31945243 (Facebook page).
Dustin K. Britt is a Triangle native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches locally. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing on it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.