Bat out of Hell review: Audiences are crying out loud for Jim Steinman's rock and roll spectacular
By Mikey Smith
★★★★★ (5 stars)
The musical based on the classic albums by Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman has already scooped awards for its explosive, over the top production
Bat out of Hell has made its revved up return to the West End stage - and audiences are crying out loud for more.
The rock and roll extravaganza based on the classic albums by Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman has already scooped the coveted Best Musical prize at the Evening Standard theatre awards for its limited West End run.
And now it’s returned to West End’s spiritual home of rock majesty, the Dominion Theatre - which played host to Queen and Ben Elton’s super-smash We Will Rock You for 12 years.
The young, diverse and painfully talented cast belt out all the hits from Bat out of Hell and its two sequels - including I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That), Dead Ringer For Love and a feisty take on Paradise By The Dashboard Light.
What ties them together is that they were all written for the ‘Neverland’ musical Steinman’s had in his head for nearly half a century.
Raven (Christina Bennington), a restless young girl falls in love with tearaway teenager Strat (Andrew Polec), who through a post-apocalyptic mutation, is frozen at the age of 18 and leads a gang of similar eternal teens called 'The Lost’.
There follows nearly three hours of sex, rebellion, jealousy, betrayal, death, rebirth and two genuine on-stage vehicle crashes.
Along with the motorcycle crashes, blood and pyrotechnics there are some technical touches that turn the theatre musical format on its head.
For much of the show, a camera follows Raven around some of the more remote areas of the sprawling set - broadcasting live to screens and projectors across the stage.
Polec was born for this role. He's a skinny, big-voiced ball of energy. The perfect archetype of a rock and roll icon.
It's like one of the idealised paintings that adorn Steinman's albums has sprung to life and is suddenly shouting "I REMEMBER EVERYTHING" in your face.
Bennington does a great job of the wide-eyed good girl who's been wrapped up in safety and is dying to experience a little - just a little - bit of danger.
Alongside Polec and Bennington is a near-faultless supporting cast, including West End veteran Rob Fowler (Jesus Christ Superstar, We Will Rock You, The Rocky Horror Show Reborn) as Trump-esque dictator Falco and the hilarious Sharon Sexton as his long suffering wife Sloane - who starts the show drunk and appears to get drunker as it goes on.
The dysfunctional parents have been gifted some absolute belters, and make one of the two new Steinman-penned songs - What Part of My Body Hurts The Most? - into an unexpected show stopper.
Danielle Steers, playing Zahara, is another one to watch, delivering an utterly star-making performance of Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.
And Giovanni Spano as Lost heart-throb Ledoux recalls a November Rain era Axl Rose with his powerful, but tender verse in Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are.
And the band, let me tell you about the band. A lot of guys have tried to recreate the sound of Bat out of Hell over the years - but guitarist Ben Castle is the first I've ever heard even attempt Todd Rundgren's legendary 'motorcycle solo' in the title track. He pulls it off night after night with aplomb.
This revamped production sees the band freed from their under-the-stage pit to take their rightful place on the stage in several scenes - a great move.
And, if possible, the show seems a lot bigger in the slightly smaller space of the Dominion Theatre than it did in the English National Opera's cavernous Coliseum, where it ran last year.
My only complaint about the new production is that somewhere along the way, It Just Won't Quit - a lovely song from Bat out of Hell II - which was beautifully delivered by Bennington in the first half of the show, has been cut. It's not a deal breaker, but it's a shame.
It’s easy to sneer at Bat out of Hell as just another jukebox musical - the plot is simple, though no thinner, really, than the plot of your average Italian opera.
And the dialogue between star-crossed Strat and Raven - "the sea is whipping the sky, the sky is whipping the sea" and "would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses" - is, I believe deliberately, off-kilter and odd.
They're kids, and kids talking to each other can feel like a foreign language sometimes.
And with audiences regularly taking to their feet for full-blown standing ovations after the first half, let alone the second, there’s something about this show that really connects with people.
Bat out of Hell is an overblown, melodramatic, explosive - not to mention extremely loud - assault on the senses.
But as writer Jim Steinman is fond of saying, “If you don’t go over the top, how will you ever see what’s on the other side?”