Guest post by Dave Jackson.
What do you get if you mix Americana with Victorian melodrama, and pop it into a post-apocalyptic future? Yup, that’s right – the rock opera Bat Out Of Hell.
Jim Steinman’s opus crashes like a juggernaut onto London’s Coliseum stage with a selection of show stopping M.O.A.Bs – mother of all ballads – that never let up. If you like your musicals muscular, meaty and massive then baby, this is for you!
Jim Steinman is ‘The Father of the Power Ballad’ having sold millions of records worldwide and was described by the LA Times as “The Richard Wagner of Rock”. Meatloaf (Steinman’s musical muse) was a rock star who performed in a genre all of his own. Unlike his contemporaries, the sexy Axel Rose or the gritty Bruce Springsteen, ‘The Loaf’ looked like a blue collar guy, dressed as a dandy, that sang about cars ‘n girls. This musical does something similar. It creates and then revels in its very own style; a style that is filled with delicious contradictions and familiar iconography. It’s sumptuous and sexy. Set in a future that feels like a reassuringly twentieth century America, where the combustion engine is still king! The plot is part Romeo And Juliet, part Peter Pan, with a soupçon of Blade Runner thrown in for good measure. It’s a classic tale of forbidden love and immortal mutants.
Strat, the main character played by Andrew Polec is magnetic, mercurial and magnificent. He bounds around Jon Bausor’s audaciously designed set like a young, lithe, wolf. Baring his fangs, showing his claws and at one point even smearing his rippling body in blood whilst all of the time melting our hearts with big puppy dog eyes and a voice sent from the heavens. He pursues his love interest Raven, who is walled-up like Rapunzel in a penthouse in what looks like Trump Tower.
Raven, played by Christina Bennington, is rebellious and sexy as we watch her fly the nest and explore the underworld. Bennington’s voice is phenomenal and compliments Polec’s rasping organ to perfection. Raven’s mother and father played by Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton are simply superb as the high society couple with marital problems. Their tempestuous relationship is crystallised in the extraordinary duet of Paradise By The Dashboard Light.
The costume, choreography and set brilliantly frame this wittily staged rendition of Steinman’s hit. Again, the range and quality of the vocal performances is astonishing; as is the wonderfully naughty pink thong adorning the brilliant Rob Fowler’s Falco (that’s his character’s name not a euphemism!).
It’s worth mentioning Danielle Steers here, who, although not a real dead ringer, definitely imbues a certain quality of another American icon – Cher. She tears up the floor, and twerks and teases in her tantalising rendition of Dead Ringer For Love.
The director, Jay Scheib, deftly handles the hyperbolic and grandiose nature of Steinman’s opera. He knows when to introduce moments of humour – the dismembered parts of a motorbike forming a heart above the heads of the cast – but never undermines the world of the play. Emma Portner’s choreography is fresh and funny and the ensemble all keep this monster motoring right up until the final song, the iconic I’d Do Anything For Love – (But I Won’t Do That).
And what is it they won’t do? Well, I’ll tell you! Bat Out Of Hell might confound your expectations, it might shock you with its sheer audacity, but it will not bore you, no it won’t do that. It will instead keep you transfixed from beginning to end.
Guest post by Dave Jackson.
Photos courtesy of Specular.