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Jacqueline 03:10 am MST 02/26/17
In reply to: Daily Mail story on Bat - rockfenris2005 02:20 am MST 02/26/17

Operatic rock songs, roaring motorbikes and a starring role for Meat Loaf... maybe! Event gets exclusive access behind the scenes of Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical

It’s a rarely aired fact that the Princess of Wales was a massive Meat Loaf fan. Were she still with us, Diana would have undoubtedly been making discreet enquiries about attending the premiere of Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical.
It is poignant that the 20th anniversary of her death comes 40 years after the first release of the Wagnerian rock album that she so enjoyed.

Meat Loaf, who isn’t yet appearing in the rock ’n’ roll opera but has been cheerleading for his songwriting friend Jim Steinman, composer of those seven songs that shook the world, takes up the story.

‘Diana had been to four of my shows,’ says Meat at his Los Angeles home. ‘She was a fan – I did not know this. They would sneak her in after the lights went out.
‘I met her at the Pavarotti and Friends concert [in 1995],’ the awestruck singer continues. ‘I was standing right with her, and she turned to me and she said, “I’m hungry,” and I said, “You know what? If you said right now to somebody, I want a chicken leg, I guarantee you’d have one in two minutes.”

‘She was so down-to-earth and funny. I really liked her. And when she told me she’d been to four shows – wow, I couldn’t believe it.’

While the princess was hot on The Loaf, he’s not so sure about the Queen singing along to his operatic blood-and-thunder anthems.

‘I don’t think the Queen will come,’ he sighs. ‘She doesn’t like me because I didn’t behave properly at It’s A Royal Knockout [in 1987].

‘I told Prince Edward: “When you walk in the room, my knee hurts. I’m not standing up, dude.”

‘He said, “That’s cool. You haven’t got to,” and I said, “And I’m going to call you Ed, or Edward,” so I called all the royals by their first names. Fergie was there. She called me Meaty, and I said, “Well, if you’re going to call me Meaty, what am I going to call you?” She says, “Flower,” so I went around calling her Flower all weekend.’

Bat Out Of Hell, the 43-million selling testament to creator Jim Steinman’s wild imagination, is a modern phenomenon. One of the biggest selling records of all time, it still shifts over 200,000 copies a year.

‘What’s funny is that everybody hated it to death when it first came out,’ says Meat, who is rarely given to understatement. ‘I knew nine people who liked it, and that was counting me and Jimmy.’

The UK, Lady Diana included, bought into Meat Loaf’s overblown blend of Spector, Springsteen and Wagner from the start. He has enjoyed a special relationship with Britain since he first appeared on BBC2 in 1978, eyes bulging above a generously overfilled dress shirt, his lank locks and crimson hanky sodden with Texan sweat. Bat Out Of Hell remained in the UK charts for 474 weeks.

It is fitting, then, that the musical will play first in Britain, opening at Manchester Opera House before swooping down to the London Coliseum in June.

Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical is a tough show not to love. Steinman began developing the project 50 years ago, the teenage opera having begun as Neverland, a futurist rock retelling of Peter Pan, in the late Sixties.

It’s been through some changes since then. ‘I’ve got at least four drafts sitting here in my drawer,’ Meat Loaf guffaws.

The latest version features 17 celebrated Meat Loaf songs, including You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth, Bat Out Of Hell, Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad and I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).

Event has been given exclusive access as the spectacular revs up, to experience the sights and sounds, and speak to its key players.

The lead characters, Raven and Strat, will be played by Belfast-born Christina Bennington, 25, and Andrew Polec, 28, a high baritone from Pennsylvania.

Cast together in a mind-warping wasteland, love for our latter-day Romeo and Juliet, will not come easy.

Blond and gym-honed, Polec bares scant resemblance to the well-nourished chap with the perspiration issues who toured Bat Out Of Hell in the late Seventies. In his time, Meat Loaf was as unlikely a sex symbol as Jeremy Corbyn.

‘You never thought, “Everybody’s going to want to sleep with that guy,”’ agrees Polec. ‘Until you saw the power and passion he brought. He didn’t have a six-pack but he still took his shirt off and rolled around on stage. I wish I’d been old enough to see those shows.’

Bennington recollects hearing Bat Out Of Hell as a child, her father bellowing along in the car. ‘He won’t be doing that during the shows,’ she promises.
The behind the scenes personnel on Bat Out Of Hell are no less impressive than the leading players. Canadian choreographer Emma Portner recently worked with Justin Bieber, having starred in his Life Is Worth Living video. Lighting design is by the legendary Patrick Woodroffe, who has illuminated the Rolling Stones’ stages for the past 35 years. Among the group of prestigious producers is Tony Smith, who has managed both Genesis and Pink Floyd.

Director Jay Scheib, 47, a professor of music and theatre arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology admits that Bat Out Of Hell wasn’t in his musical sphere as a teen. He was ‘heavily into The Cure and Joy Division’ but acknowledges that the Meat Loaf album was the soundtrack for a lot of people growing up.

‘It’s all about these songs,’ Scheib explains. ‘I want to get to the heart of what they’re expressing and then put that on stage. Although the music is 40 years old, the story still speaks to us all today.’

The script tells the tale of the never-ageing Strat and his wayward gang The Lost, who roam the streets of a dystopian Manhattan under the rule of the ruthless Falco.

The temperature rises when Strat falls for Falco’s daughter Raven. Cue a slew of chest-beating paeans to love, rebellion and destiny.

Visually, the show will combine live and video performances with state-of-the-art lighting. With live motorcycles and that relentless rock ’n’ roll rhythm, it’s a full-throttle ride with a sidecar-full of social conscience, as epic but intimate an experience as the songs themselves.

Steinman, who has suffered a heart attack and two strokes in recent years, and has been too unwell to travel, watches rehearsals on Skype then rewatches the videos each evening, prior to a weekly telephone conference with Scheib. ‘They can be long conversations,’ Scheib says, rather pointedly.

Scheib is more than aware of the opera world’s snobbery towards rock operas and musicals, and the disdain this project may attract from the high-art crowd. ‘There’s the feeling that some musicals aren’t “serious”,’ he says. ‘It’s not considered fine art. It’s “commercial” and “spectacle” without the content of some operas, whereas some opera can be wildly lacking in content.’

Yet musicals are notoriously high-risk. Even with songs by U2’s Bono and The Edge, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, the most expensive Broadway production in history, closed after two-and-a-half years in 2014, enmeshed in a tangled web of technical problems, financial woes and health setbacks.
‘Of course it is high-risk,’ breezes Scheib. ‘But crossing the street – particularly for an American in London – is high-risk.’

‘If you thought about the risk all the time then you would just be trying to please those people who don’t want it to work,’ adds Bennington.

‘I wrote Jimmy an email,’ recalls Meat. ‘“How’s the play going?”. He writes back: “Well, I’m seeing it every day but it may close in two weeks”, and then he put “LOL”.

‘I wrote back, and made the letters giant, really huge: ‘I don’t think it’s going to close in two weeks. LOL.’

The laughter stops and he suddenly turns deathly serious.
‘For Jimmy’s sake, I hope it’s a huge hit because it’s been literally 50 years and… it could kill him. I’m not kidding. If it fails, I dread the day.


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