The plot of Bat Boy is as loopy as its source material, a fabled cover story in the outlandishly cheesy Weekly World News. Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, who provided the book of the musical, were inspired by that rag's yarn about a half-bat, half-human child found in a cave in West Virginia. They teamed up with composer Laurence O'Keefe and turned something laughable into something, well, really laughable, singable, and actable. Bat Boy, under the inspired direction of Scott Schwartz, could well be this decade's Little Shop of Horrors. (That comparison is not lightly made).
In a nutty nutshell, here's the story: Our hero, found in a cave, is brought to the local vet's house to be put to sleep, but his humanity is reawakened by the vet's wife, Meredith (Kaitlin Hopkins). From the point when Meredith sings to him and he, in a cage, suddenly harmonizes in return, Bat Boy takes off like a bat out of hell. The woman showers the boy with love and attention, teaching him to speak, read, and act like a proper English gentleman. This transformation is one of the funniest scenes you will likely find in the theater this year.
What seems, at first, to be a one-joke rock musical soon evolves into a diverse pastiche of everything from My Fair Lady to The Lion King. The referential aspects of the show are fun to pick out; but you need not, for instance, realize that at one point they're spoofing Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde to enjoy the moment. The show works on its own energy and inventiveness, lifted by a cast that could hardly be improved upon. In the title role, Deven May gives a career-making performance. His acting is physical yet internalized, and his dramatic skills are as rangy as his exquisite voice. He's also wonderfully funny. In fact, May should immediately start writing acceptance speeches for all the awards he'll win at the end of the season.
He is not alone, however, in carrying this show. Kaitlin Hopkins here gives one of the most fully rounded female musical comedy performances in a long time. Her timing is masterful, she sings like a dream, and she finds just the right tone for her character. Sean McCourt, who plays her husband, the veterinarian, is spectacular in his own dark fashion. Kerry Butler as the ingenue who first loathes, then loves the bat boy, has an extraordinary voice. Trent Armand Kendall, in multiple roles, galvanizes the show at the start of the second act as a revivalist preacher. And so it goes, right down the cast list.
Scott Schwartz's direction is fast-paced and full of gags. After a rocky start, he pulls the disparate pieces of Bat Boy together to achieve a consistent tone of cheeky, downtown humor in spite of the wild gyrations of the plot. The book by Farley and Flemming is droll, and it's often matched by O'Keefe's dryly comic lyrics. But O'Keefe's music is uneven; the show's best numbers are those rooted in the genuine musical comedy tradition, like the killer "Three Bedroom House," sung by Hopkins and Butler.
Bat Boy just wouldn't be the same without the atmospheric sets designed by Richard Hoover and Bryan Johnson. The show's lighting has been smartly created by Howell Binkley, with the exception of one sequence that blinds and abuses the audience. Finally, Fabio Toblini's costumes are a blast. Bat Boy looks as great as it sounds.
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