Meat Loaf musical Bat Out Of Hell explodes with energy

NOW Toronto

★★★★ (4 stars)

Holy hell, can this cast sing

Bat Out Of Hell is a thrashing, blood-pumping, fire-breathing spectacle that barely ever stops to catch its breath, for better or for worse – though usually for better.

Strat and Raven, almost embracing, on a battered mattress lying on a rock

As with many concert-style musicals, the story runs a bit thin. An impish lad (Andrew Polec) bursts through the bedroom window of a young woman (Christina Bennington), introduces her to his misfit friends, and everyone learns a thing or two about growing up.

Sound a bit like Peter Pan? It’s intentional. Writer, composer, and lyricist Jim Steinman’s initial 1970s draft was called Neverland, and there’s even a character named Tink. But the result is much more J.G. Ballard than J.M. Barrie. Amidst the burnout skyscrapers of the show’s urban dystopia is a throbbing mass of big-time sexuality that does its best to compensate for the gaps in the plot.

Much of the tone is delivered visually via Jon Bausor’s forced-perspective set. It feels enormous and makes good use of both height and depth, as well as handy incorporation of Finn Ross’s requisite mega-musical video projections.

But most of your attention will be directed toward the singing and, holy hell, can this cast sing. Pop musicals often favour big-voiced belters without much finesse, but Bat Out Of Hell’s cast have real chops.

The two young leads are excellent, and 20-year-old Polec is a raw, real star. But some of the best performances come from the supporting cast. As the sexually frustrated mom and pop of evil mega-corp Falco, Sharon Sexton and Rob Fowler bring fistfuls of heat and humour, and their voices are sublime.

Danielle Steers and Billy Lewis Jr. play another set of tortured lovers with pipes of steel, and the former’s smoky, inimitable sound deserves a show of its own.

The band is explosive and receives a well-deserved nod in the curtain call, but the real star is Steinman’s music (much of which was made famous by Meat Loaf). It’s clear why Steinman’s been dubbed “the Richard Wagner of Rock.” Too much is never enough, and Bat Out Of Hell is practically operatic.

The whole thing explodes with energy. It’s unapologetically full throttle, moving so fast that weaker stretches quickly disappear in the rear-view mirror. It’s got bumpy moments, but it’s a hell of a good time.