BWW REVIEWS: BAT BOY at 1st STAGE IS TUNEFUL TERROR DONE RIGHT
Writers and theatre makers can find inspiration almost anywhere. Several years ago, I was intrigued when I heard a musical was being planned based on the infamous cover story and sensational photo spread from the Weekly World News "Bat Child Found in Cave!"
BAT BOY THE MUSICAL is now playing at 1st Stage in Tysons and it's a must see. The creators used the old magic "What if...? and came up with a doozy of a story.
Funny, touching, edging on camp, BAT BOY is tuneful terror done right.
The score, by Laurence O'Keefe who also put the songs in Broadway's LEGALLY BLONDE, fits perfectly within the dark and twisted world created by co-writers Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming. The songs range from the sweetly maternal "Lullaby," the Southern gospel of "A Joyful Noise," and clever set-pieces such as "Another Dead Cow." In the wilds of West Virginia, a passel of local yokel teenagers explore the caves near their tiny town. Guess who they find lurking in the damp recesses of the caverns? Yep, the so called Bat Boy - a feral youth, presumably lost to civilization - is then dragged back to Hope Falls to the local medical authority, but not before he bites one of the redneck youth. By local medical authority, of course, they take the wild child to the veterinarian, Dr. Parker.
What follows is a wild ride, indeed! Mrs. Parker shows compassion to Bat Boy and with her teen daughter
Shelley, they rehabilitate Bat Boy, he gains a posh British accent, and becomes a proper gentleman. Oh, yes, he still has fang-like teeth and bat ears, but appearances are not everything. The tale that continues to unfold is to bloody to spoil, but there is romance, intrigue, a revival meeting, some grand guignol and tabloid worthy revelations. In other words, it's a hoot but there is a good dose of pathos that might even bring a lump to your throat.
Director Steven Royal gets an A+ for casting all the way around for the ensemble show. Ten performers play the inhabitants of Hope Falls, with six actors playing nearly two dozen roles. Dani Stoller, Katie Nigsch-Fairfax, Farrell Parker, Russell Silber, Steven Hock, and Maggie Leigh Walker each have a field day with the crazy characters. They back up their canny comedy portrayals with powerhouse vocals.
Jimmy Mavrikes makes an amazing transformation in the title role. As wild and unintelligible as he is when he emerges from the shadows of the cave, he is just as elegant and poignant once he becomes the more civilized Edgar. Mavrikes's tenor voice suits the score with his performance of "Let Me Walk with You" is a highlight. He also has a strong connection to Maria Rizzo as Shelley Parker; Rizzo also has an expressive voice she shows to advantage in "Ugly Boy."
In the pivotal roles of Dr. Parker and his wife Meredith, Alan Naylor and Esther Covington bring another layer of gravitas to their performances. Covington's Meredith is a picture-perfect, supportive mother; Naylor is the hard-working vet who cares deeply for his family. As the story moves towards the climax, Naylor and Covington peel away at the secrets their characters hold and they deliver the goods in spades.
The work of Adam Koch, set design, and David Sexton, lighting design, provides a fittingly wild, unit set with lots of nooks and crannies, shadows, lightning and other effects that enhance the spooky tale. Kenny Neal's crisp sound design punctuates the production with the right amounts of thunder, and keeps the singing balanced throughout. Royal's clever direction goes hand in hand with Pauline Grossman's frenetic choreography, which has the look of a group of amateurs putting on a show - which is meant to be a compliment. It's can be tough to sell performances as being done by a ragtag bunch of small town folks, but it works beautifully in this instance.
Last but not least, Walter Bobby McCoy's musical direction and the small but mighty band keep O'Keefe's score rocking in all the right places. The 1st Stage space is a fantastic place to see and hear a musical - the intimacy of the stage, the excellent sound design and solid musical performances are everything one could wish for.
If you love shows like LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS or URINETOWN, BAT BOY THE MUSICAL is definitely a show to catch.
1st Stage presents BAT BOY THE MUSICAL
Story and Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming
Music and Lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe
Directed by Steven Royal
Musical Direction by Walter Bobby McCoy
Choreography by Pauline Grossman
Featuring (alphabetically): Esther Covington, Stephen Hock, Jimmy Mavrikes, Alan Naylor, Katie Nigsch-Fairfax, Farrell Parker, Maria Rizzo, Russell Silber, Dani Stoller, Maggie Leigh Walker. Lighting Design: David Sexton; Set Design: Adam Koch; Sound Design: Kenny Neal; Costume: Chelsey Schuller; Props: Kevin Laughon. Stage Manager: Sarah Magno.
Through June 22, 2014 at 1st Stage Tysons, 1524 Spring Hill Road, Tysons, VA 22102. Call 703.854.1856 or visit the 1st Stage website HERE.
Photo Credits: 1st Stage