Bat out of Hell musical's stars are all revved up for return to the West End
By Mikey Smith
We caught up with stars Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington to find out about the award-winning Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman musical's return
Bat out of Hell, the musical based music of Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, topped off a hugely successful year by scooping Best Musical at last week’s Evening Standard theatre awards.
The show, which only ran in the West End for three months last Summer, has attracted a feverish fanbase in such a short time - with some returning dozens of times for repeat viewings.
And the news broke last week that it’s all coming back to a new home for an open-ended run in London’s West End from April 2018.
We caught up with stars Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington during a whirlwind visit to the UK.
What's the show's secret?
There aren't many West End shows that can command a standing ovation at the interval, but Bennington says it happens "quite a lot."
“There’s something about - I guess the sound of this music,” she says. “You don’t just listen to it, it goes into your bones and your heart and soul and the theatre shakes with it.”
She adds: “It’s a rock and roll, adrenaline fuelled experience. Not just a night at the theatre and it’s like nothing you’ll have ever seen before.”
Polec tells us his favourite new description of the show, recently coined by a reviewer is “Youthquake”.
“We’re hoping that it creates shocks and fractures and shakes London to its core,” he says. “With love.”
So, it this another Jukebox musical?
Not really. In fact, the play has been bubbling in the mind of creator Jim Steinman for more than four decades - long before it became the second biggest selling album of all time.
The young, diverse and painfully talented cast belt out all the hits from Bat out of Hell and its two sequels - including Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) and a feisty take on Paradise By The Dashboard Light. What ties them together is that they were all written for the ‘Neverland’ musical Steinman’s had in his head for nearly half a century.
“This was always meant to be a musical,” says Bennington. “We haven’t tried to find a story to knit these all together. This began as a story in Jim Steinman’s brain, as a musical.”
The plot is simple, breathlessly histrionic, and, copyright law requires us to point out, is absolutely NOT the plot of Peter Pan.
Raven (Bennington), a restless young girl falls in love with tearaway teenager Strat (Polec), who through hand-wavey post-apocalyptic mutation, is frozen at the age of 18 and leads a gang of similar types called 'The Lost’.
Definitely not Peter Pan, you understand.
There follows three hours of sex, rebellion, jealousy, betrayal, death, rebirth and, of course, two of the most exquisitely staged vehicle crashes ever seen in the West End.
The set is utterly spectacular
Along with the motorcycle crashes, blood and pyrotechnics there are some technical touches that turn the theatre musical format on its head.
For much of the show, a camera follows Raven around some of the more remote areas of the sprawling set - broadcasting live to screens and projectors across the stage.
Polec says: “It’s immersive. And there’s so many details on the stage that normally you wouldn’t be able to see unless there’s an eye that was very, very close. And that’s what the camera helps you see. It gives you a different angle. You’re being, like, bent tubularly into another part of the world.
Bennington adds: “On the first day (Director) Jay (Scheib) told us: “You can climb on everything!”
“So we have a mountain, a tunnel, an escalator, a building with a balcony on it, bikes…and we are allowed to climb on everything!”
…and occasionally a little dangerous
One aspect of the set, a pool of water, proved near fatal for the two leads during their very first performance.
“I guess I got a little overzealous,” says Andrew. “The show had been going extremely well.
“So we get to the end part where I am supposed to drag Christina as Raven down the stage. And I grab her, and I start to run and I go and my feet get caught on the water and they fly up in the air, way above my head and I smack down on my back as hard as possible onto the stage and begin to promptly slide off the stage towards a 20ft drop that’s the orchestra pit.”
Luckily, Bennington was able to grab part of the sturdy stage set and prevent serious injury.
She is keen to note: “They’ve put a net in there now.”
Jim Steinman is still involved in the production
Steinman, who lives in New York, still watches every single performance of the show on a live video feed.
Andrew says: “He’s got his finger on the pulse. He’s always commenting on what he sees.”
Asked what the enigmatic songwriter is really like, Polec lights up: “He is out of this world wonderful.
“When I first met him it was the first day of the workshop in New York. He comes in and he’s got these huge sunglasses that are kind of like a Star Trek visor wrapped around his head.
“And he’s got this huge leather jacket with giant metal spikes coming out of it. And then you look down at his hands and he’s got these fingerless leather gloves with - no lie - coral reef coloured urchin spikes coming out of them. So I wasn’t sure if I should shake his hand or just admire his hand.”
Even people who’ve seen it 20 times might find a surprise or two when the show returns
The two stars can’t say just yet whether they’ll both be returning when the show moves into its new home at London’s Dominion Theatre in April - but Bennington promises it will be “a very exciting run.”
“All this news happened like literally three days ago,” says Polec. “So it’s all very fresh.”
It's been a whirlwind 12 months for Bat out of Hell, culminating in a well recieved run in Toronto and last week's audience voted award.
Christina says: "It is crazy. I was saying this before. For this very prestigious award we were up against so many other musicals - many of which have run for a lot longer than us. And it’s incredible that we did a three month stop at the Coliseum and managed to garner as much support as we did.
"‘Stage dooring’ in Toronto is not such a big thing. I don’t think people really know that they can do it there.
"But the people that we see at stage door, almost every day, are fans from the UK. Almost every day there’s a fan from the UK at the stage door."
But the production team are still planning a few surprises for the show's return to the UK.
Andrew let slip: “I don’t know if I’m allowed to share this…but someone did mention something that possibly…possibly the band might start joining us on stage for songs. I think that’s one of the ideas that’s being thrown around.”
Bat out of Hell returns to London's Dominion Theatre from Monday, April 2 2018. Tickets are on sale now.