The Tony winner returns to the New York stage and her first love: rock and roll
When asked how she's been prepping for her part in Jim Steinman's over-the-top fantasy Bat Out of Hell – The Musical, Lena Hall gets all revved up. "I have been preparing my whole life!" she exclaims, and she means it. Although the 38-year-old actress-singer-songwriter is best known to New York theatregoers for her Broadway work, notably her Tony-winning turn as drag king roadie Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, she considers that her day job.
"I have been leading a double life for a while," she confesses, adding that many nights after curtain call she would head downtown "to a rock club on the Lower East Side and play with my band" named, tellingly, The Deafening. "I love theatre for its storytelling and I love rock music -- it brings me a sense of enlightenment, of being closer to a higher power, or God, or whatever you want to call it. But singing rock and roll is like my church."
No surprise then that for Hall, starring in Bat Out of Hell is akin to a religious experience. Currently playing at City Center, the musical is inspired by an iconic trilogy of Meat Loaf albums of the same name featuring songs by Steinman, including "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)," "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" and "Paradise By the Dashboard Light." All of those hits and many more are performed in the show.
"This music has stood the test of time," says Hall. "It's still so good. There's so much storytelling in all of Steinman's music, you can tell his first love is theatre. I would call this a rock opera with scenes. There's this elevated sense of drama."
There's been a bit of drama off-stage too. After its world premiere in Manchester in 2017, Bat Out of Hell had successful runs in London (where they even hosted special sing-along performances) and Toronto. Last year, a North American tour of the musical was announced and then more or less scrapped. But the City Center engagement went forward helmed by original director Jay Scheib, with original stars Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington returning as the central star-crossed lovers Strat and Raven. Hall is a new addition.
Set in a dystopian future, the musical reads like a mash-up of Peter Pan and Romeo and Juliet. Strat and his gang of forever-young adolescents live underneath a fantastical city called Obsidian. But when Strat falls for Raven, he runs afoul of her father, Obsidian's tyrannical leader Falco (Bradley Dean), and her mother Sloane (Hall), who worries her daughter will make the same mistakes for love that she did.
Although Hall gets multiple showstoppers that highlight her killer pipes, she makes her entrance on a serious note, as she pleads with her daughter to break off the affair. Their conversation is filmed live and broadcast on a massive screen, but their dialogue is drowned out by the number "All Revved Up with No Place to Go." You don't need to make out what they're saying to know that it's tense.
"We see Sloane have a kind of Kardashian moment," says Hall. "I think Jay does these multimedia moments really well. It feels like a comment on social media and reality TV -- you see what the camera picks up and you get this small peek. But it's one-sided -- there's so much going on."
Indeed, Bat Out of Hell has a lot to take in. Although one of the lauded set pieces from the U.K. production didn't make it stateside (sorry, there's no pool), there's still plenty of video, leather-heavy costumes, motorcycles, wild choreography, washboard abs, and rock and roll.
While the show is high on camp -- Hall calls it "post-apocalyptic sci-fi craziness" -- it also has moments of sincerity, and she loves how it can turn on a dime. "The story really boils down to something very universal: family, love and loss, and rediscovering what it is you want."
That last part is something she definitely relates to. "A few years ago, I went through a big shift in finding who I was again," Hall says. "I am now three and a half years sober. It was a whole rediscovery of who I am. I am in the best place I have ever been in terms of my relationship with myself, so telling Sloane's story of strength and recovery is exciting, because I have gone through that."