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Bat Boy The Musical

Michael Portantiere comments on the Provincetown Theatre Company's production of a very strange show. logo
The cast of Bat Boy The Musical
(Photo © John Thomas)
I was glad that I didn't have to review the 2001Off-Broadway production of Bat Boy, because I really didn't know quite what to make of it. The show was certainly excellent in terms of its casting; specifically, it featured extraordinary performances by Deven May in the title role and Kaitlin Hopkins as the Bat Boy's adoptive (?) mother. But the musical itself seemed a mish-mash, with some witty lines and nice songs standing out amidst a whole lot of hyper-sarcastic, post-modern juvenilia. It occurred to me that, in order to make a fair assessment of the show, I should wait and see another production. Now that I've experienced Bat Boy The Musical as presented by the non-professional Provincetown Theatre Company, I feel confident in stating that its music and lyrics are neat but its book really bites.

Bat Boy may perhaps be viewed as the forerunner of several subsequent shows that have trafficked in blatantly ironic, quotation-heavy, smart-ass humor, often at the expense of any significant emotional content. Based on an infamous cover story that appeared years ago in the Weekly World News -- one of those supermarket tabloids that are useful primarily as bird-cage liner -- the musical revolves around a half-bat, half human young man who's discovered in a West Virginia cave by a group of teenagers. This creature is brought home by one of the teens, Shelley Parker -- daughter of Thomas Parker, the local vet, and his wife, Meredith. The Bat Boy is soon domesticated and taught to speak the King's English by Meredith, who names him "Edgar" and who seems to have an exceptionally strong bond with him. (Guess why!) Alas, the townspeople refuse to accept Edgar; though they claim to be filled with "Christian Charity," they're actually looking to blame someone for the fact that all of the cows in the vicinity are dropping dead. And you know what happens when "Christians" scapegoat people...

In telling this tale, the authors reference -- some might say "rip off" -- everything from the New Testament to My Fair Lady to E.T. Yet Laurence O'Keefe's music and lyrics somehow seem fresh despite the fact that this is a pastiche score. A highlight is the hilarious "Show You a Thing or Two," in which Meredith gives Edgar elocution lessons. "Another Dead Cow," "Comfort and Joy," and the strangely moving opening number "Hold Me, Bat Boy" are also very well crafted. Sadly, the show's dialogue is nowhere near as good as its musical moments; there are a few decent jokes here and there, but most of the humor is sophomoric and the denouement is ludicrous even for such an intentionally outlandish story as this.

It should be noted that Keythe [sic] Farley and Brian Flemming are oddly credited with the "story and book" of Bat Boy. This sort of thing usually bespeaks insecurity and rampant ego, as when an untalented director insists on a credit line that reads "entire production directed by..." (What's the alternative? Can someone direct only part of a production? And doesn't it follow that if someone wrote the book of a musical, he or she also wrote its story?) Only time will tell if Farley and Flemming will have respectable careers in the theater or if Bat Boy was just a case of them being lucky enough to work with people more talented than they.

The PTC production begins strongly with the cave scene: The teenagers move about a stage that's pitch-dark except for the lights emanating from their miners' hats, and their voices are spookily reverberant as processed by sound designer Allen Gallant. But the sound system turns out to be one of the show's major problems, distorting the cast members' singing voices. Even more unfortunately, Anthony Jackman has directed Bat Boy with little or no attention to detail. For example, Phoebe Otis as Meredith has evidently not been instructed to "cheat out front," and her hair obscures her face when she's seen in profile. (The poor woman is also unflatteringly costumed.) Jackman is further remiss in allowing several of the actors to literally scream many of their lines; Lacey Waite as Shelley and Brian Carlson as Rick are the chief offenders.

Bart J. Murell's choreography is fun, especially for the "Children, Children" number, which features David Marshall as Pan. An excellent rock band, led by music director John Thomas, is much more skillfully amplified than the singers. Considering the show's budget and the less-than-ideal performance venue (a banquet room at the Provincetown Inn), Bat Boy is well lit by an uncredited individual. Also uncredited is the set design, but there isn't much scenery to speak of.

I've saved the best news for last: Adam Berry, a rising star who was great as Claude in PTC's 2003 production of Hair, is phenomenal as the Bat Boy. In the show's early scenes, he adeptly captures the essence of the creature with feral movements and weird, plaintive noises, then gradually metamorphoses into an articulate and beautiful young man with a glorious singing voice. Berry just recently graduated from the Boston Conservatory, but his performance is thoroughly professional in every respect and reason enough to see this production of Bat Boy despite its flaws.

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