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BWW Review: Gen Y's BAT BOY is a Nearly Perfect Halloween Production

There's really no getting around it, BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL is weird, albeit wonderfully so. It's an audacious musical comedy ripped from the headlines of a supermarket tabloid. Inspired by the on-going Weekly World News articles that began with 1992's "Bat Child Found in Cave!," the musical tells the story of a half-bat/half-boy creature feared and tormented by close-minded townsfolk, despite the fact that all he wants to do is learn to be human and find a home. Musicals don't get much weirder than that. But, it is for this very reason that Gen Y Productions has become the most exciting theatre company in Orlando in less than a year of operation. Not only are they willing to do shows that are outside the scope of traditional companies, but they also do them extremely well. BAT BOY, a cult favorite since it debuted Off-Broadway in 2001, is far from a perfect show, but Gen Y's version, directed by Kenny Howard and running through Halloween at The Abbey, just might be as perfect of a production as possible.

With a book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming and music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe, the show has shades of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, and even THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, but takes far more sadistic turns than even those outlandish comedies did. An uproarious musical about a mutant monster who potentially carries a deadly disease and feeds on blood, but also sings and dances, is the perfect answer to the scream-inducing Halloween attractions around town.

From the musical's first tune, it is immediately evident as to what type of show you are in for. The bizarre song's hyper-earnest melodrama warns you that what's to come is going to be slightly "off," but it is also clear that the 10 person cast is remarkably talented. Filling the Abbey's modest stage with soaring vocals and harmonies, you could easily be convinced that their numbers were three times as large. The show's five-person ensemble of David Lee, Amitria Fanae, Kayla Kelsay Morales, Shonn McCloud, and Adam McCabe plays 14 characters, each one even more hilarious than the last. With the help of Kyla Swanberg's wonderfully interchangeable costumes, the actors bounce back and forth from one red-neck cretin to another.

From the moment he is captured deep in a West Virginia cave, Ricky Cona is fantastic as the titular character. When Sheriff Reynolds (Michael Colavolpe) brings the bat boy to the home of veterinarian Dr. Thomas Parker (William Flanigan) to be put down, you see a scared animal lashing out at anything that approaches. However, as the doctor's wife and daughter (the equally superb Rebecca Fisher and Jennafer Newberry respectively) begin to sympathize with the creature, an obvious evolution is seen in Cona. His growth from animal to something almost human is really funny, and Cona embodies every odd, newly learned trait and skill perfectly.

Many of O'Keefe's most popular musicals, including BAT BOY, LEGALLY BLONDE and HEATHERS, center on outsiders striving for acceptance from a community that would prefer to just ignore or humiliate them. While Cona's character might not be as sympathetic as Elle Woods or even Veronica Sawyer, he is surely the far more reviled by those around him, which always makes for entertaining drama.

BAT BOY is as much about the Parker family as it is about the creature. As daughter Shelley, Newberry is extremely charming, even when she is tormenting the family's newest stray. While the character is written a bit unevenly, Newberry is delightful throughout. With a great voice and even better comedic instincts, she makes for an adorably head-strong ingénue.

Flanigan's Dr. Parker is a troubled man. He wants to be the perfect father and husband, but there is always something keeping his wife at arm's length. Flanigan is able to play that frustration for both laughs and motivation as he works out a plan to get his family back. Like the rest of the cast, Flanigan is extremely well-voiced, and couldn't have been more impeccably cast.

As phenomenal as the rest of the performers are, Fisher is by far the show's standout. With a June Cleaver-air, Meredith is the show's one calm character, and Fisher pulls off the soothing mother wonderfully, while always having a simmering uneasiness in her eyes. Her voice has a tremendous tone, and she is able to be funny even when she and Flanigan are dancing to William Marcgante's sultry choreography.

Colavolpe is great fun as the sheriff. In a part that could easily be played for broad laughs, he is able to get those laughs, while still creating a believable character. As mentioned above, the entire ensemble is brilliant, but McCabe stands out as both Shelley's boyfriend Rick and old lady Lorraine. McCabe is incredibly funny and has a great voice that, somehow, fits both characters; not to mention the fact that he looks like he is having the time of his life on that stage.

As has been the case in the other Gen Y musicals, the band was far too loud for the Abbey's small space. While the band sounded great, they were so loud that they often drowned out the singers, or forced them to over-sing. Music Director John DeHaas has assembled a fantastic group of musicians, but they would have better supported the show had they substantially pulled back on the volume.

Throughout the entire show, Howard and the cast hit all of the right comedic notes, wringing every imaginable laugh out of the story, without sacrificing any of its sincerity. Bonnie Sprung's set and Michael Wanzie's props were significant contributions to the show's silly vibe as well.

Other than a couple of Opening Night hiccups, the performances and production were perfect. However, the second act is considerably slower and darker than the first, as they get into the meat of the bat boy's increasingly ludicrous story. Last year O'Keefe, Farley, and Flemming debuted an updated production at Harvard, but O'Keefe told BroadwayWorld that much of their efforts were focused on shortening Act I, as opposed to cleaning up the, at times, laborious second act. A major segment of Act II consists of flashbacks that are incredibly difficult to stage. While Howard keeps them crisp and quick, they simply slow down the narrative with a rather clunky bit of exposition.

However, no bit of clunkiness could rob this production of BAT BOY from its depraved joy. If you like your musicals a bit twisted, get your tickets now by visiting The Abbey's website or by calling 866-468-7630.


Did BAT BOY get you in the Halloween spirit, or was it just a little too weird for your tastes? Let me know what you thought in the comments below, or by "Liking" and following BWW Orlando on Facebook and Twitter using the buttons below. You can also chat with me about the show on Twitter @BWWMatt. If you want to follow along with my "366 in 366" articles, you can check out #BWW366in366 on Twitter.

Photo Credit:
1) Ricky Cona: Bonnie Sprung | Gen Y Productions
2) Jennafer Newberry, Ricky Cona, and Rebecca Fisher: Bonnie Sprung | Gen Y Productions
3) Ricky Cona and Rebecca Fisher: Bonnie Sprung | Gen Y Productions

*Correction: a previous version of the article credited the photos to "Bonnie Springs." Bonnie Sprung is the correct attribution.


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