A Taste of Paradise - The Bat Out of Hell North American Tour
One of my all-time favourite theatre experiences in the past year was attending the North American Tour of Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell. I fell in love with the sound, story, and spectacle of this show very quickly and it holds a very special place in my heart. I was overjoyed to be able to return and witness the tour’s previews, and couldn’t wait to see Bat become as well loved here as it is across the pond. However, near the end of their three week run, the company was provided with a closing notice. It occurred to me recently that the North American Tour never received a review, as it closed after previews and never “officially” opened. Aside from a few promotional performances, the only other media surrounding the tour focused on its sudden closing and postponement. I could share my thoughts and feelings on the tour closing, but by discussing its sudden closing, we let that become its legacy, instead of the amazing work done by the cast, crew, musicians, and creatives on this new version of the show. In writing this piece, I wish to celebrate this gorgeous production and the energy, hard work, and talent that made it something wonderful.
Bat Out Of Hell is a romantic adventure about rebellious youth and passionate love. Set in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan, adrift from the mainland, now known as Obsidian. Strat, the forever-young leader of The Lost; a group of genetically mutated teenagers, has fallen for Raven, daughter of Falco, the tyrannical ruler of Obsidian. With a score by Jim Steinman sang by powerhouse vocalists, the music in Bat Out of Hell is nothing short of amazing. I have always found a beautiful theatricality in Steinman’s lyrics, which make sense now that I know he had intended Bat to be a musical from its inception. The images in his songs are powerful, and these epic songs are both an outpouring and exploration of some of our most human emotions. Not only do these performers display understanding of the technique needed to navigate a Steinman rock opera, they express the emotions honestly and use their own unique vocal stylings to add another layer to the character journey. Occasionally, in musical theatre, songs can become an opportunity to display vocal acrobatics; however I was so glad that this was not the case with this production. Dynamics, riffs, and other vocal embellishments were character driven.
The spectacle that is Bat Out of Hell is directed by Jay Scheib. He makes character a priority amongst the vocal and technical feats onstage. I have always admired his ability to stage the spectacle, while finding the simple truth within the larger-than- life emotions. One of my favourite qualities of this show is how it has stunning moments of intimacy within the whirlwind of actions. Scheib styles organized chaos so brilliantly onstage, allowing many things to occur at once without overwhelming the audience. This is supported by Xena Gusthart’s take on Emma Portner’s original choreography. She uses her smaller cast size to allow the intricate movements and formation changes to become seamless. The movements are clear expressions of the emotions of the Lost, and the way the ensemble moves in sync through the choreography truly sells the bond between the characters. Bat Out of Hell has some of the most story-serving choreography I have seen in a very long time.
Bat Out of Hell is a technical spectacle. With sound effects, mixing a group of rock voices, a live band, lighting, dry ice, smoke, quick changes, a live camera feed, a two-tiered set, mirror box, motorcycles, and a blue convertible, it is a marathon to keep this show running seamlessly. Diehard fans were concerned as to how the show’s effects would be downsized to take it cross-country. However, these changes were minimal and handled stylistically. The biggest change was the removal of the pyrotechnics, which is understandable as not all theatres are licensed for it. This theatregoer did not miss it. While the pyro is beautiful and recreated the iconic image from the original album cover, I have always been more inclined to run away from fire than applaud for it. The show remains a spectacle from a technical perspective, regardless of the changes, and that is all thanks to the technical crew and production team.
Naturally, the tour came with changes to the book, as well as the staging, and as I mentioned, some of the tech. These changes were all presented beautifully by the creative team, and also shared by the amazing cast. One of the bigger changes for long-time fans was being introduced to an incredible American cast. There was so much joy in watching these new faces take on these beloved characters, as well as celebrating the return of one very familiar face.
Fresh from the second London run of Bat Out of Hell, Andrew Polec joined the tour to reprise his starring role on home soil. Polec was the original Strat and has previously lead the show in Manchester, London, and Toronto. Previously, I saw two incredible alternates in this mammoth role and was thrilled by their performances. I had heard wonderful things about Andrew Polec as Strat, and when I heard he was returning to the role in Toronto, I was very excited to have the opportunity to attend. Months later, I still find myself at a loss for words. Polec’s performance is transformative and otherworldly. He plays equal parts dreamer, lover and revolutionary. His acting and physicality own the stage, but his gorgeous vocals are insane. Not only is he able to effortlessly glide into the high belt the role demands, but in certain moments he flips into a glorious clear falsetto, proving him to be a master of his craft. With unbound energy, he is a true force of nature.
Matching Polec step-by-step and note-by-note was Emily Schultheis in the role of Raven. The chemistry between the two gives off sparks as we follow the young lovers on their journey. Schultheis brings a sweet awkwardness to Raven, and demonstrates not only a lack of human connection, but an eagerness for interaction. There is strength in this ingénue and her character arch shines brightly as we watch her fight for what she wants. Bat provides high stakes for these teenagers in love, and Schultheis handles them with grace, honesty, and a dry wit. Paired with her vocal stylings, this incredible actress fit perfectly into the Doc Martens of Raven Falco.
Bradley Dean’s incredible stage presence makes him thrilling as Falco, dictator of Obsidian and villain of the piece. He commands attention in scenes, connecting early on with the audience as a man of power, and a force to be reckoned with. Dean brings a surprising softness to Falco, and his charisma and the removal of a musical number in the second act made him seem to earn his wife’s forgiveness. Sloane Falco, played by Lulu Lloyd is the perfect match to Dean’s Falco. Her comedic timing is a wonderful foil to his intensity. In comedic and tragic scenes alike, the two share a strong bond onstage. Even in the darkest moments of Sloane and Falco’s relationship, the connection is still there, and it leaves the audience hoping that they will reunite. Lloyd brings a silent strength and vulnerability to Sloane, and she masterfully slips from her poised demeanor into moments of dry humour, pure joy, and deep sadness.
One of the biggest changes for the tour was changing Valkyrie from a member of the ensemble to a supporting character, and no one could have brought her to life with the love Sam Pauly did. Adding another female voice to the inner circle of the Lost was incredible for the group dynamic, and her verse of Objects in the Rearview Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Areis a heartbreaking masterpiece. Rounding out the inner circle of the Lost were Tyrick Jones as Jagwire, Will Branner as LeDoux, Harper Miles as Zahara, and Avionce Hoyles as Tink. These wonderful actors formed a tight knit group and worked extremely well together to tell this story. Jones had beautiful honesty, Branner had incredible comedic timing, Miles had presence and strength, and Hoyles had childlike innocence. Their vocals soared and together, they truly created an introduction to the Lost for the audience.
The ensemble members of Bat Out of Hell have always had individual personalities, but in a smaller cast, they were able to flourish. Each member of the Lost now have moments where they are featured. This group was made up of Nik Alexander, Emilie Battle, Lincoln Clauss, Kayla Cyphers, Alex De Leo, Adam Kemmerer, Nick Martinez, Michael Milkanin, Erin Mosher, Tiernan Tunnicliffe, Zuri Washington and Kaleb Wells. The boundless energy these incredible performers brought to the stage was unparalleled.
I was lucky enough to rejoin the audience for their closing show, and I was once again overwhelmed by the energy the tour cast brought to the stage. I did not want to discuss the closing notice, but I do now to applaud this cast for pushing through and giving incredible performances. In theatre, we often discuss “leaving it all on the boards” – and on this final day, that is exactly what this cast of incredible artists did. I still get chills remembering what sitting in the audience that day was like. So, thank you to the cast and crew who banded together and gave their all despite the situation. It was truly beautiful. Most recent press has the tour of Bat Out of Hell postponed and rescheduled for later in 2019/2020. More information can be found on the show’s official site. Until more news is released, check out the Cast Recording on iTunes and Spotify! In the case that the tour starts up, I would encourage both musical theatre and rock and roll fans alike to pick up tickets and witness this incredible piece of theatre.
Bat Out of Hell has many of the elements that make great theatre, but above all; it has heart. And what could be more rock and roll than that?