Launched amid a whirl of hype and publicity, Bat out of Hell the Musical is probably the most eagerly anticipated music and stage event in Manchester for the first quarter of 2017. A convenient trip home for less entertaining purposes saw me in the city for the opening night and I booked a ticket almost as soon as they were released. For me it was something of an odd thing to do; I am not one for musicals (they just don’t appeal), I tend to despise the crowds on open nights (experience of Star Wars extreme fandom can do that!) and when I grew up and during my early adult years it was seen as something of a social sin to be seen to admit to liking MeatLoaf. That said, I greatly enjoyed American Idiot when that was in Manchester and this seemed to be a similar concept; a musical based on an album and at least some of the songs would be familiar to me. As a result I took the plunge and attended an event that I knew would be a little different but I will admit that my expectations were not hugely high – would it be all flash and no fire?
Absolutely not. The venue does its best and my seat had a limited view (not the productions fault) but I could see around 90% of the action and the acoustics in the venue were excellent and landed themselves well as they did with American Idiot. I came out of the show thoroughly entertained and with chills down my spine from what I had seen. The large crowd all seemed to be thrilled by the show and for an open night it seemed to pass with remarkable polish.
The cast were completely unknown to me and going into the show with no real knowledge of musicals meant that I had no baggage in respect of performers. The two primary characters; Stret and Raven have not yet been owned by the actors (Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington respectively) but on an opening night this is to be expected. Despite this I would not envy any one else taking on the rolls after the performance on Friday night. Polec delivered an almost manic intensity to the charter of Stret which seemed perfectly fitting to the character and the music; whilst Bennington managed to weave a character that was innocent yet had depth with Raven. After the initial scene with Raven there was a risk that it could come across as a lightweight character but Bennington delivers a performance that really makes the rebellious girl trapped in her own life believable. Both Polec and Bennington work well together and bring the intensity needed to their joint scenes and ensure the characters do not drown under the weight of the lyrics they perform so well. Special credit must be given to Polec for continuing without missing a beat during an unexpected fall and making it appear as part of the script.
The supporting lead rolls of Falco and Sloane (Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton) likewise deliver with Sexton delivering a performance of great sexual energy whilst Fowler exudes menace on stage and in the vocals manages to have a very similar delivery and sound to Meat Loaf himself. The two have some scenes which could easily have descended into farce of corniness if delivered in a different way (rolling round on a classic American car carries risks of its own) yet both manage to deliver a believable tale of lost youth with elements of comedy but not cheese.
The support cast do a sterling job of supporting the leads and the vocals of Danielle Steers (playing Sahara) and Dom Hartley-Harris (playing Jagwire) deserve a special mention in my view; with Hartley-Harris delivering a performance and range of motion which reminded me of Errol Brown to no small degree.
The show follows a simple enough plot, which I will not go into here out of respect for the cast and crew. At its heart is a love story but it would be unfair to say that this is all there is to Bat out of Hell the Musical. Underlying the main theme there are strong themes of coming to terms with growing older but in addition there is a strong theme of coming to terms with the unintended consequences of our actions; this is particularly prevalent in the portrayal of Stret’s relationship with Tink once Raven is added into the mix.
The music is of course well known to everyone and as a result would be hard to go wrong with a back catalogue as strong as Steinman’s to draw upon. The really big hits (I’d do anything for love, two out of three ain’t bad and of course Bat out of Hell) amongst others are well spaced out amongst the show (something which was an issue I felt in American Idiot) and the band/orchestra play the music to perfection. The songs lend themselves well to the ensemble cast and the actors deliver the solo performances well; though perhaps without the sheer power of the originals – something to be expected). From a purely personal point of view I felt that Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through was perhaps not used to its full effect; it worked in the scene but I would have liked it to have been used in a slightly more heroic scene but I appreciate not everyone’s favourite song can be used in the way they would like. The opening notes of anything for love, the first time I had heard it played live, more than made up for any lingering disappointment over Dreams and sent a genuine tingle down my spine.
The show makes use of special effects to what I am told is an unusually high degree but I did not feel that it was dependent on them and instead used them to support the show rather than make it. Overall then this was stunning show and one that rightly deserved the standing ovation it received at the end of act one and at the show’s end. Would I see it again? Certainly. I would hope that the possibility of a cast recording has not been discounted but even if it has been then I would probably do what for me is the unthinkable and pay to go to London to see it again (it will have left Manchester when I am next back). Is there room for improvement? Well, aside from the slip (and who knows that may be added into the script) if that is what the case produced on opening night then this could truly end up being one of the greats by the time they really get into their stride! My advice, see this amazing show before it is gone.