BWW Reviews: BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL Brings High Camp to Mamaroneck
The implausible story came straight from the bottom of the barrel tabloid, The Weekly World News. Three teenage spelunkers in West Virginia find a half human/half bat creature. The local sheriff brings him to the home of the town's veterinarian, Dr. Parker, whose kind wife, Meredith, takes care of him and transforms him into a likeable person. Their rebellious teenage daughter, Shelley, falls in love with him and Meredith reveals a shocking secret: Bat Boy is Shelley's twin brother!
OK. SO the story is totally outlandish. That's part of the fun. But Bat Boy: The Musical, which is playing at the Westchester Sandbox Theatre, is a must-see, even if think this isn't your cup of tea. Here are the reasons why. The book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming is timeless high parody of gothic and exotic mixed with a moral tale, and Lawrence O'Keefe's energetic lyrics and music, which make the Twilight franchise seem like a substitute for Unisom. The Little Radical Theatrics production has a dynamic, talented ensemble cast that nailed the kind of roles actors can - pardon the pun - sink their teeth into.
Under the adroit direction of Michael J. Mirra, the performers squeeze out the nuances intended by the authors and lyricist, even as they skewer gothic drama, televangelists and simple country folk. Matthew Kennedy plays Bat Boy with the agility, sensitivity and likeability required for the role. The squeaking, incoherent creature transforms into a proper gentlemen, who just so happens to dine on pure whole blood. Oh, well. Drew Mollo perfectly straddled the line between oafish and calculating, while convincingly capturing the sheriff's humanity. Joey Sanzaro could have played the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde veterinarian more broadly. In parody it's fine to go over the top. Still, he was quite credible as he swung back and forth between love and contempt. Stephanie Viegas was in fine form as the compassionate wife of the veterinarian, as were Justin Santore in the roles of Rick Taylor, Lorraine and Mr. Dillion and Michael Serpe as Bud, Daisy, Pan and the doctor. Bryelle Burgus's beautiful singing voice was at its best during Act II. Cristina M. Ramos nimbly moved through the multiple roles of Ron Taylor, Maggie and Clem, even while doing a costume change on stage.
Two other performers deserve special mention. Taylor Ross played Ruthie Taylor, the first victim, and redneck Ned flawlessly. However, her youthful appearance, resemblance to Viegas, captivating manner, and recognizable training in singing and dancing and expert timing should have boosted her into the role of Shelley. Ross is her generation's Kristen Chenoweth with a natural luminosity and pureness, a big talent wrapped in a tiny bundle. Casting directors should also take note of Markiss Robert, who stole the show as Mrs. Taylor, Rev. Billy Hightower, Roy and the Institute Man. Think of Tyler Perry's Madea, JAmes Brown and Mahalia Jackson rolled into one, with a talent for improvisation. Calling Tyler Perry and Gerard Alessandrini! You've got to see Robert In Bat Boy: The Musical and cast him in your next productions!
Kudos also to Theresa Burns for excellent choreography, Katrina Snyder for her simple, but effective multipurpose set and costumes, and to Colton Suarez for the lighting design. The Westchester Sandbox Theatre isn't as quite as small as a sandbox, but they made the most of it. Denis Zepeda's sound design was a bit loud for the small space, but he did Mary Ann Ivan's musical direction justice. As stage manager, Julia LaVerde made it all look easy and fun.
Bat Boy: The Musical originated with Tim Robbin's Actor's Gang Theatre in 1997 and opened Off-Broadway at the Union Square Theatre with Deven May as Bat Boy and Kaitlin Hopkins as Meredith. I wish I'd seen it, but I'm glad that the play still generates interest among audiences. I know one thing. I'll never pass another tabloid that has a wacky headline without thinking how bat boy became the entertaining Bat Boy: The Musical.