BWW Interview: Andrew Polec & Christina Bennington on BAT OUT OF HELL

BWW Interview: Andrew Polec & Christina Bennington on BAT OUT OF HELL
Andrew Polec and Christina
Bennington in Bat Out of Hell

Fresh off winning Best Musical at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, Bat Out of Hell returns to Toronto to continue performances.

While back in London, we caught up with stars Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington to talk Toronto, audiences, and the show's return to the West End in 2018.

Congratulations on Bat Out Of Hell's big win, as voted for by the public. How are you feeling?

Christina: It's just crazy. It's such a marvellous honour to represent the hard work of a hundred or so people, from the writers to the tech department, cast and creative.

Andrew: Yes, it truly takes a village to create a musical. And everyone joined in and gave their love. We saw all of our supportive fans come to the front and say, "You guys rock!"

Christina: The award is such a testament to our fans and audiences, really. They're very loyal and faithful. And we came to the West End for only three months and somehow managed to garner enough enthusiasm and support, that they all came out and voted for us.

I think it speaks volumes about what the British public wants and needs at the minute: a show about joy and love.

Andrew: They are amazing. We have people who have seen it like 72 times now! And it really is multi-generational. Everyone can come.

I imagine it attracts quite different audiences, from night to night?

Christina: You know, it's great because we actually get a lot of people who've never even been to the theatre before, never mind heard Meat Loaf. So it's like we've opened up a whole new demographic, a whole new audience.

And because of the existing fan base of Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf, it already comes with an expectation and people who love the music. What's amazing is they have almost the same enthusiasm as people who are hearing it for the first time.

And you're now bringing it to a whole new audience, in the Toronto production. How have international audiences been reacting?

BWW Interview: Andrew Polec & Christina Bennington on BAT OUT OF HELL
Andrew Polec in Bat Out of Hell

Andrew: You know, there's so many Meat Loaf fans over the world and discovering another dichotomy of them, another culture that loves this music as much as we do, it's just been an absolutely amazing experience.

It's so amazing to see how they love this music in different ways.

Christina: And how they relate to the story in different ways too.

It's been written with a North American audience in mind in a lot of ways, just because of who's behind it. And it's been really interesting to see how the jokes translate there. They fall in different places; it's like we get an equal reaction, but to different things.

That's really interesting for us, because it keeps it fresh. So really the audience in this show (more than any I've been a part of) is like another character. Because the show changes so much, depending on whose in that night.

They certainly feel like part of the show. Do you ever get people singing? And should they be?

Andrew: Absolutely and we encourage it...highly! When we were in Manchester and London, people were singing at the top of their lungs. You almost thought that maybe there was an echo in the room, but it turned out it was a compilation of a few thousand voices.

Christina: So true. And the great thing about this show is because it has such an open heart and we wear our hearts on our sleeves, people in the audience feel like they have permission to tell us how they feel.

There are certain moments which seem open to calls and responses. I'm thinking "On a hot summer night" in particular...

Andrew: Yes, especially because there are those two failed attempts to start that song. By the time the third one comes around, I think everyone is expecting it. So when she says...

Christina: "Will he offer me his mouth?"

Andrew: Everyone goes, "Ooh!" And then Strat says "Yes" and everyone's like, "Yes! It's going to happen."

It's euphoric, it's so cathartic. It's a wonderful, shared experience with everyone. It's not that they're just watching us; it's like we're watching this together and creating it together. So we're grateful for that every night.

I imagine those interactions can lead to some funny moments too.

Christina: There have been some very shared, hilarious moments. One of the big ones we've had is at the end of the show, when we ask those all important questions from "I'd Do Anything For Love".

"Will you raise me up? Will you help down?" At the very end, Raven gives her ultimatum, her most important question. And very often, the audience answers the question for us, before Strat gets a chance. And that's so amazing...

Andrew: Unless they answer it the opposite way! "Don't trust him!"

BWW Interview: Andrew Polec & Christina Bennington on BAT OUT OF HELL
Christina Bennington in Bat Out of Hell

The show's now played at three very different venues. What challenges does touring bring with it?

Christina: Practically, we've re-spaced everywhere and that's for sightlines.

Our set is a crazy world designed by Jon Bausor, it goes up so high and so far back and it has so many levels and screens that project live cameras, a lot of things that have never been done before. Every space demands something different from it.

Andrew: It always changes, and it's going to continue to change when it comes back in the future.

Christina: And that means we have to change the staging of a lot of scenes. But we're very flexible like that and our Director Jay Scheib is incredible for just going, "Okay, well just do it completely differently."

Like for me, "Heaven Can Wait" has been completely different in every venue. And that changes the way you sing it and the whole staging. So we're really lucky to be given license to evolve the show and play with it.

Andrew: And there are always new discoveries in the songs of Jim Steinman, because of the way he's able to craft the stories. They can be interpreted in so many different ways, obviously Meat Loaf interpreted the song in his way and we interpret the songs in our way for what Jim Steinman originally intended them to be.

So there are so many new discoveries to be made every night.

Christina: And it's nice to witness each other's discoveries too. I always say to Andrew that the only time I ever see "Bat Out of Hell" is when we tech it in each venue.

I run off in the middle and I run front of house, so I can see the last section of this epic ten minute marathon that he does every night. So for us as a cast, it's so amazing to see each other grow.

BWW Interview: Andrew Polec & Christina Bennington on BAT OUT OF HELL
The company of Bat Out of Hell

How long have you been together as a cast now?

Christina: Almost a year to the day. We started rehearsals on 12 December last year...which is pretty crazy.

Andrew: Eight more days.

And this Toronto production must bring you even closer together.

Christina: Well, we are all staying in the same building in Canada! And it's excellent, because you meet people in the lift on the way to work. It's almost like going back to college again. And what could be more appropriate for a show about a bunch of eighteen year olds who never age?

And we're a really close family in the way that we created the show. And the full cast and our massive ensemble are just amazing.

This ensemble really is a massive part of the world, off stage and on stage.

Christina: Absolutely. And people don't realise this: what's so characteristic about Jim Steinman's music is the backing vocals. There's this wall of lush, backing vocal sound. But if you're watching, you don't even register that it's happening because it's so well blended and lovely.

It's like when you watch "Heaven Can Wait": I'm up in my bedroom singing this big ballad, and in the dark there's all the rest of the cast in a cage on set singing the backing vocals. They're still working hard, even though they're in a blackout.

Andrew: Yes. And they have all created their own interesting dynamics and stories between themselves, because this is a hugely interactive world.

Christina: Every single person has their own character name and style. Our swings are often gender neutral, so boys will cover girls, whether that's fights or whatever. Because that's a thing that we like about our post-apocalyptic world: it's very gender fluid and gender neutral. But the swings will always still be their own characters.

It's been announced Bat Out of Hell will return to the London stage in 2018. What does this mean to the team?

Christina: It's just incredible that this show we've created will be seen by so even more people. I think this show has a really long life and a long future of making a lot of people happy and giving a lot of joy.

Andrew: It's great to know that this show was 40 years in the making. That it has finally come to life and will hopefully continue to keep bringing light to everybody.

And if anyone didn't see it the first time round, why should they come see it when it returns?

Christina: Bat Out of Hell is a rock and roll, adrenaline filled experience. It's not just a night at the theatre, and you won't have seen anything like it anywhere else.

Andrew: It's not a thing to watch; it's a thing to celebrate and come join in the fun with. I have to say my favourite description so far that I've read is that it's a "youthquake". You're going to get like shaken to your core.

Last time, we asked you what your favourite number to perform was. If you could sing someone else's song for one night only, what would it be?

BWW Interview: Andrew Polec & Christina Bennington on BAT OUT OF HELL
The company of Bat Out of Hell

Andrew: Oh, I know!

Christina: Go then.

Andrew: You don't know?

Christina: You go first though.

Andrew: I would do "Paradise By The Dashboard Light". It was the first song that I heard. I'm so embarrassed about this, but I listened to it this morning and I lipsync to it in the shower!

Christina: I'd sing "Bat Out of Hell". Just because I currently sing a very important couple of lines in it...

Andrew: You sing a good portion.

Christina: I'm about to compliment you, so shhh! But you know, I watch it and I think, "How do you do that every night?" It's very inspiring, to be on stage watching that and to be off stage listening to that. So I would give that a go and see if I could do it.

Andrew: You'd find it easy.

You should just do that for the next week: swap parts.

Andrew: Okay, cool.

Christina: That would be so fun.

Andrew: And then we're going to do Wicked and I'll play Glinda and you'll play...

Christina: What, Fiyero?

Andrew: Yes.

Christina: Alright.

Bat Out of Hell plays the Dominion Theatre 2 April-28 July, 2018

Photo credit: Specular

Check out our first interview Andrew and Christina, from the West End production

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From This Author Rona Kelly

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