“Bat Boy” Discovered on Miami Theatre Stage!

Review by Kevin Reynolds of ‘Bat Boy: The Musical”: Miami Theatre

It’s not breaking news that there are some unusual or unexpected inspirations for Broadway (or wanna be Broadway) musicals. I give you a Stephen King horror story (“Carrie”), the banning of public toilets (“Urinetown”), even the first Treasurer of the United States (really? You need me to tell you?)

But the Miami University Department of Theatre is currently presenting perhaps one of, if not THE most, bizarre. Director Suann Pollock (General Manager of Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park) has taken on “Bat Boy: The Musical” for the final production of their academic year. It had a run off-Broadway in 2001 but lives on in local theatres and colleges around the country.

The plot, in short, is a fictional presentation of the story of Bat Boy, a creation of the tabloid publication Weekly World News to help sell papers, From the discovery of the Bat Boy in a cave through his almost “My Fair Lady”-esque transformation (thanks BBC!), to the small town uprising and ultimate satisfying/non-satisfying conclusion (depending on your perspective), there are innumerable twists, domestic un-bliss, possible incest, a revival meeting, and a pretty decent body count. With some laughs. And rock music. There’s a lot going on.

There’s a gender-neutral approach to the supporting cast as several play men and woman no matter how they identify. Some of it works, some gets distracting, but credit to them for trying to best utilize the actors. 

Strong performances come from Worley Stidham as Bat Boy (an incredibly physical performance, especially through the majority of the first act); Brooke Vespoli as Shelley Parker, who at first disdains the Bat Boy but as he changes, so do her feelings: and Kate Herman, who brings a true, though somewhat mysterious, sense of maternal love for Bat Boy. All possess strong voices and captured their characters as they transform throughout the play.

The music is, for the most part, forgettable, but two numbers in the second act stand-out. The rousing revival number (“A Joyful Noise) led by visiting Reverend Hightower (Abby Chafe) opens Act Two and brought cheers and howls from the, up until then, lethargic audience. And the sweet duet “Inside Your Heart” was beautifully performed by Bat Boy and Shelley. 

Credit must also go to Scenic Designer Gion DeFrancesco for a beautifully executed and versatile set that goes from cave to living room to slaughterhouse with ease; Lighting Designer Marly Wooster who provided tremendous mood setting effects and a seamless color palette that enhanced the action; and Choreographer Ashley Goos for creative and character-appropriate dance numbers.

My only real disappointment is with the sound, specifically the performers’ microphones. I believe these microphones are the best and worst things that have happened to musical theatre. When they are managed properly (which is a true art form), they are a tremendous benefit. When they are not, they become a distraction, keeping you from becoming lost in the story. I felt no audio subtlety ““ it was like all microphones were set at 10 and left alone. This may have worked well with a larger crowd on opening night, but I was there the second night and the house was maybe half-full, so I hope some adjustments can be made through the run.

“Bat Boy: The Musical” runs April 25-27 and May 2-4 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 5 at 2 p.m. Tickets available by phone at 513-529-3200, at the box office, or online at Bat Boy: The Musical tickets

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