★★★★☆ (4 stars)
Bat Out of Hell, Coliseum, London — thrilling
Jim Steinman's rock'n'roll musical already feels like a classic
Jim Steinman has long been the Wagner of rock'n'roll, and now at last he presents his Ring in the way it always cried out to be seen, in a proper opera house and everything. Such is his way with his material that it already, right out of the box, feels like a classic.
The story: in a dystopian future Manhattan, Strat, leader of a tribe of never-ageing teens, falls in love with Raven, daughter of the city's tyrannical boss Falco. It's three parts Peter Pan, one part Romeo and Juliet, plus a generous pinch of Escape From New York. The songs, written by Steinman, come principally from the 1977 Meat Loaf album of the same title (itself partly derived from a prior attempt at a future-Pan stage musical) and its 1993 sequel.
The first surprise is how little the generous shadow of Meat Loaf falls over the show. The songs stand up in their own right, and Mr Loaf's trademark readiness to go full-throttle on their theatrics is nicely transmuted here (not least as Raven's parents recall their own courtship in “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”). The second is how often the numbers seem to integrate seamlessly with the book. Steinman has taken a chance in writing the script himself, but he is well aware of his fondness for archetypes, and even takes the mickey out of himself with a running gag in which Strat asks folk the opening spoken question from “You Took the Words Right out of My Mouth” and they keep refusing to take his cue. Director Jay Scheib may not get all the gags, but his steampunk-Götterdämmerung-meets-Grease staging taps into the mainspring of the show's spirit with verve.
Andrew Polec as Strat shouldn't be able to fit a set of lungs like those into such a spare frame. Christina Bennington is a little heavy on the pants and yodels of musical-theatre vocals as Raven, and is outgunned by Sharon Sexton as her mother. Robert Emery's band skimp on neither the volume nor the hard edge of the original recordings. My only significant criticism is that Steinman rather neglects an ending, relying on the anthemic status of finale “I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)” to do the heavy lifting. As an overall experience, however, even for those of us who aren't devotees, it's thrilling.
And I don't say that to all the boys.