Yes, the bias is excusable. ‘The Meat Loaf Musical’ is hardly a selling point for most fans of the genre, and in the We Will Rock You shaped shadow of the Dominion Theatre, it (debatably) has a lot to live up to.
But Rock You this is not. While Queen’s back catalogue is undeniably showy, Jim Steinman’s songbook is well and truly rooted in musical theatre, from the high concepts of the original album and its subsequent sequels to lyrically aiding Lloyd Webber on Whistle Down the Wind.
Similarly set in fashionable post-apocalyptia, half-hearted ‘current’ humour is swapped for utter bombastic sincerity, which plays completely in its favour. The vital difference between the two is that Bat Out of Hell doesn’t claim to be anything other than what it is. It embraces and revels in its absurdity and, instead of attempting to reverse engineer a narrative from the selected hits, manages to create a universe in which these songs simply must be expressed.
Drawing upon influences from Peter Pan and shades of its vampiric reimagining The Lost Boys, BOOH centres around ‘The Lost’, a group of disenfranchised and hot blooded youths, biologically stuck at the age of 18, unable to grow any older.
During a standard night of riot and PG debauchery, their beloved leader, Strat (Andrew Polec) so named, it’s implied, for the brand of guitar he used to brutally murder his father, encounters Raven (Christina Bennington) and makes it his business to steal her away from her yuppie father Falco’s (Rob Fowler) ivory tower.
Without a performer to match Meat Loaf’s own life-or-death style the show wouldn’t get off the ground, but Polec’s incorrigibly fierce energy, rich tone and spectacular range prove we are in more than capable hands.
Channelling Roger Daltrey and Jim Morrison in moveset and removing his shirt for emotional effect at various points, Polec is the embodiment of teenage angst, belting each song like his life depends on it. He’s living the dream and you’re with him every second of the way.
Bennington’s Raven is the perfect foil, wide-eyed but painfully conflicted, coming into her own in soaring duets ‘Making Love Out of Nothing At All’ and ‘It’s All Coming Back to Me Now’.
Elsewhere Danielle Steers’ Zahara puts Cher to shame with her effortless vocal performances in ‘Dead Ringer For Love’ and ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’, while villainous duo Falco and Sloane (Sharon Sexton) sparkle in hilarious showstopper ‘Paradise By the Dashboard Light’, which sees a convertible being pushed into the orchestra pit, much to the band’s dismay.
But by far the unsung star of the evening is Finn Ross’ video design, incorporating live camera feeds to visually amplify the action, distorting and warping every beat while remaining unintrusive and completely transportive.
Bat Out of Hell does not attempt to rewrite the rulebook as much as gleefully kick it around and frame it for all to see. Emma Portner’s choreography is spirited and nostalgia driven, not attempting to pioneer but to punctuate the performances, and Jay Scheib’s direction and staging is typically operatic for a production of this scale.
It’s camp. It’s garish. And completely and utterly infectious. If you don’t find yourself punching the air at the climax of the title song then you may need to check your pulse. Not since Imelda Staunton’s rendition of ‘Rose’s Turn’ has this reviewer seen a standing ovation mid-show. Do anything for a ticket.