Ragingly Operatic

Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton on the red carpet for the London premiere of Bat Out Of Hell The Musical


★★★★★ (5 stars)


“On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?”

Or in this case, a red carpet  lined with Hells Angels and three generations of fans. Would you? Swelteringly, yes! On this hot summer night, the howling, raw-rocking, Fender-bashing wolf can have us, throats and all.

 Jim Steinman’s astonishing rock ballads, brought to our hearts (and my car stereo, pretty well daily)  by Meat Loaf, were originally meant for the stage, rather than just that immortal album. So this isn't some limp jukebox musical, with a thin storyline by some dreary Ben-Eltonish hack. They were already storytelling songs, all soul and muscle and poetry and the innocent violence of  teenage yearning: “the flesh and the fantasy, the mystery and the muscle of love”. 

Giovanni Spano on the red carpet for the London premiere of Bat Out Of Hell The Musical

So of course they should be onstage: and now they gloriously are, with exploding bikes and flames and a car, and guns and multicoloured smoke and somersaults and projections. And, at their heart not just burning jealousies but the sudden jokes which bubble up in the deadliest of times if you are young, as they have done ever since Mercutio punned on his deathbed.  

Jay Scheib's production is a technical spectacular, Jon Bausor leading the design, and wild exuberant choreography by Emma Portner – the ensemble are unbelievable, both in song (Michael Reed is musical director) and in the street-wild movement. But its chief glory is narrative and emotional. It is set in a scifi urban dystopia where a  tribe of the “Lost”, permanently mutated to be forever eighteen, live in tunnels under the rule of Falco, the rich property landlord. Nicely topical for London: he rules in his tower with his discontented wife Sloane. But Falco's daughter Raven is loved by the gang leader Strat, who comes to her bedroom as if in a dream (shades of Keats’ Eve of St Agnes, and rather more of Peter Pan and Wendy, since Strat can't grow older and has a jealous best friend called, er, Tink, who hates Raven).

Dom Hartley-Harris and Danielle Steers on the red carpet for the London premiere of Bat Out Of Hell The Musical

Andrew Polec, a rising US star, is a powerful intense Strat in both snarling and sentimental rock mode. Christina is Bennington an enchanting Raven: a Juliet sometimes hesitant, sometimes headlong. Both have great rock voices, but equalling them, often cripplingly funny and occasionally touching, are Rob Fowler's Falco and Sharon Sexton as his wife Sloane. The joy of Steinman's construction is that the beloved songs are parcelled out to different characters, often  with a chorus and other subplots joining in. So Fowler and Sexton’s rendering of Paradise by the Dashboard Light, (“we were barely seventeen, we were barely dressed”) may, in its wicked hilarity get me back there. Danielle Steers’ bluesy Zahara gets the heartbreak of “Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad”, and – when imprisoned and beaten by Falco –  the gang members in Guantanamo orange jumpsuits get to break your heart with memories of those objects in the rear view mirror: (“So many threats and fears, so many wasted years, before my life became my own … life is just a highway and the soul is just a car.") 

I keep quoting, and call on Keats and Shakespeare,  for good reason. For Steinman is a real poet: an emotionally intense balladeer of thrilled new love, when electricity runs through a beloved's very hair, and bodies seem to rhyme: of doubt and desire and daring and regret and absurdity, and longing for sex to be more than the moment. As an expression of eroticism it is the antithesis of porn; as a bard of biker bravura and rebellion Steinman is refreshingly uncynical.

Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington on the red carpet for the London premiere of Bat Out Of Hell The Musical

And the music! Real rock, melodious and violent, ragingly operatic. Generations gather round it like a fire: I went with my daughter; one fan group had been over twenty times, and not all were anywhere near young. Actually, the middle aged even have a new song in which to laugh at ourselves and be laughed: Falco and Sloane’s  furious number “Who needs the young? when all WE have is traces – of the faces we once were…”

In short, it's three kinds of bliss. Only those now locked impenetrably into their middle age will resist it.