★★★★☆ (4 stars)
Bat Out of Hell? Bat sh*t crazy more like. Jim Steinman's jukebox rock musical is like nothing you're going to see anywhere else right now. The story embodies everything Steinman's '70s and '80s mad, slightly camp rock music did with not a hint of shame. Everything that made Meat Loaf awful but also really great is wholeheartedly here, from the love-wracked crooning, the light-goth look, the rock, the roll to the uber sex appeal.
The new show, filling the huge Coliseum stage effortlessly with the help of Jon Bausor's insanely big, video-fuelled sets, tells a quasi-sci fi, dystopian Romeo and Juliet love story, while strong-arming an impressive number of Steinman's rock anthems into the action. Be warned: the songs have barely any connection to the narrative and this is not so much a musical as an exceptionally expensive way of getting them live, onstage and pumped full of OTT drama. But with a show this tight, and with its funny bone set perfectly in the right place, who cares? Bat Out of Hell is a glorious, ridiculous, insanely enjoyable night out.
The plot feels as though it has been plucked out of nowhere. In a future where a man called Falco rules a dirty, unhappy city, there's a bunch of genetic mutants who don't age past 18 called The Lost, who live in a place underground called The Deep End (stay with me). The leader of The Lost - Strat - is obsessed with Falco's daughter, Raven, though he doesn't actually know her. Despite that, one night he comes to get her and after that, everything gets madder and madder.
It's a show which rises or falls through having two leads who can convince us this isn't all just completely awful, by oozing raunchy young love and delivering Steinman's tracks beautifully. And that is without doubt the description of Andrew Polec as Strat and Christina Bennington as Raven. Polec's range is remarkable and the two of them blast these songs to the rafters. It's hard to keep your eyes off them. Bennington and Polec were made to rock and roll together and the chemistry between them is flame inducing. That is almost literally true at times - Bausor's set includes huge fire balls alongside several other excellent surprises. I particularly loved the moment when a full-sized car falls into the orchestra pit causing a few musicians, complete with broken instruments, to stagger out and over the stage.
Director Jay Scheib knows how to frame a song and each is a focused set piece. He makes sure that though the tunes may not work within the whole, as individual moments they are mind-blasting. The tiny bits of script - also written by Steinman - are fairly weak, falling back too often on the overblown cheese that many of the songs also do. But there are enough wacky characters to carry this through, including Raven's parents played by Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton, who have a lot of fun in several rather outrageous scenes where they attempt to ignite their lost passion for each other.
Really there are only a handful of tracks which stand out - "Bat Out of Hell", "It's All Coming Back To Me", "I'd Do Anything For Love…" are the obvious ones and it is delightful to hear them given such a great outing here. But credit must be given to supporting cast Danielle Steers and Dom Hartley-Harris for helping to rip up and redefine several of the tracks. Steers in particular has the voice and attitude that commands the stage. It's a pity that Emma Portner's ensemble choreography feels clumsily placed most of the time.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't a great musical theatre masterwork. But it does all equate to a night that will make your jaw drop, your heart soar and have you singing along. Would I lie to you? I would do anything for musical theatre, but I won't do that.