A Heart-Pounding Theatre Night
By Taylor Long
"I remember everything!" shouts Strat - a fitting opening to such a nostalgia-stirring show. BAT OUT OF HELL THE MUSICAL takes Jim Steinman's epic and beloved music, originally conceived as a musical, and creates, in the Ed Mirvish Theatre, a spectacle unlike anything else.
The show's book, which leaves a lot to be desired, is upstaged by the sensational vocal fireworks from the entire cast. Through the cast, Steinman's timeless tunes shine bright in their intended form. It's a heart-pounding night of theatre.
BAT OUT OF HELL takes place in the post-apocalyptic city of Obsidian. The gang of "The Lost", a group of teenagers that are frozen forever in time at the age of eighteen, are protesting against the conditions under the city's tyrannous ruler, Falco (Rob Fowler). Falco's daughter, Raven (Christina Bennington) has spent her life watching The Lost through her window, forbidden to wander outside by her father and mother, Sloane (Sharon Sexton). Raven's desire to experience life and escape from her overbearing parents comes to a climax when she sets eyes on the leader of The Lost, Strat (Andrew Polec).
Even walking into the theatre, you realize that this show is going to be something special. The stage is practically swallowed whole by Jon Bausor's visually stunning, enormous, multi-level set. The chairs are each adorned with a copy of the "Obsidian Times", sucking you into director Jay Scheib's extravagant vision. I don't think I've seen a more complex set. As a solution for the loss of visibility during upstage, second-storey stage action, Scheib introduces live filming to provide an close-up view. Filmed in an almost voyeur-style, you feel like you shouldn't be watching, but you can't take your eyes away from it either. It's highly stylized.
The performances are electrifying - you can't beat this cast of voices. Andrew Polec has a rare presence about him that makes him completely captivating whenever he is on stage. His voice, matching Meat Loaf's quite well in terms of timbre, is exceptional - it seems to never tire. Playing Raven, Christina Bennington is ravishing. You really have no idea what her voice can do until Act II's Heaven Can Wait. Bennington unleashes a full, mixed belt that can quickly shift to a pure, balanced soprano. Her voice drops jaws.
Raven's parents, Sloane and Falco are played by Sharon Sexton and Rob Fowler. In their first duet, Who Needs the Young, we see the incredible variety of Steinman's musical writing at work. A sort of "Anything You Can Do" number, Sexton and Fowler are playful, while delivering comedy through extraordinary singing. Steinman gives both of them a chance to show off the extremes of their voices. Fowler proves that his steel vocal cords have no end to their range, delivering a powerful rock belt in the top of Act II's In the Land of the Pig, The Butcher is King. In an emotional climax, Sexton proves her voice is just as powerful as Fowler's in What Part of My Body Hurts the Most.
It's rare that you see a show where every single member of the cast is vocally flawless. Rare, but not impossible. Danielle Steers (Zahara) may have one of my favourite voices. Her chest filled, Cher-like sound is glorious, especially when matched with Billy Lewis Jr.'s angelic, exquisitely balanced belt as Jagwire.
BAT OUT OF HELL THE MUSICAL is definitely an experience. Steinman works wonders with his music, but tends to leave you wondering with the libretto. The plot doesn't make a lot of sense, the stakes are not well established and any time there is dialogue, the pacing feels awkward. However, as soon as the music starts, the show clicks and it becomes a real spectacle. You'll want to see it again, and again.