I’d Run Right Into Hell and Back: Why I Keep Crawlin’ on Back to Bat Out of Hell
On August 1st, Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell the Musical began its six week run at New York City Center. It’s a musical that I have seen over and over on its visits to Toronto, and it felt absolutely serendipitous to have the chance to see it on my first trip to New York City. Once again, I was blown away by the intensity of this show – so naturally, I had to take the opportunity to sit down and rave about it here.
Bat Out of Hell is a futuristic, rock and roll love story. The island of Manhattan, renamed Obsidian, has floated out to sea and is now under the reign of Falco, a dictator intent on ‘revitalizing’ the city. Living in the subway tunnels underneath the city are a group of genetically-altered teens, known as the Lost, who are frozen at the age of eighteen. When Strat, the wild rebel leader, meets Falco’s sheltered daughter, Raven, on the eve of her eighteenth birthday; the stars align and they fall head first into the wonder of first love.
Accompanying this larger-than-life story are the legendary tunes of Jim Steinman. Many of the songs in Bat Out of Hell come from Steinman’s album of the same name; usually remembered for the incredible length of its title number and Meat Loaf’s acrobatic vocals. Steinman is also known for penning some of the best lyrics ever written, somehow managing to capture the human experience; in beautiful prose, as well as proving that sometimes the simplest words can hold the most weight. It is a surprise to some that these game-changing rock songs were originally intended to be performed within a musical but, the way that Steinman has mastered the storytelling through song is nothing short of theatrical.
The script of this show has been on the receiving end of criticism since its inception, and more recently since its New York debut. While there is no denying that the book has some clear weaknesses, it doesn’t make the musical any less enjoyable. It must be acknowledged that the book weaves together some of the best written songs in rock ‘n’ roll history. The musical contains songs which are often full productions within themselves. To find a story worthy of encompassing these epic tunes was no easy feat - and let’s be honest; could any script ever truly match the level of these lyrics?
Ultimately, Bat Out of Hell is an incredible night out at the theatre. An audience does not go to a show to think, but to feel - to surrender completely to an unknown world and embrace a new story, and Bat provides a sense of escapism unlike anything else.
At the helm of this amazing production is director Jay Scheib, whose vision seems to be boundless. The show is a spectacle across the board and the combination of technical elements and stellar performances is seamless. I do not have a lot of experience with the technical aspects of theatre, but what I can say about Bat Out of Hell is that the performances are not overpowered, but enhanced by these elements.
Leading the cast in the role of Strat is Andrew Polec. It feels impossible to find the words to describe Polec’s work in this production; but other-worldly seems like a good place to start. Strat is a physically and vocally demanding role, possibly one of the most difficult male roles in musical theatre today; but Andrew Polec makes it seem completely natural. He manages to perfect a delicate balance between the manic rebel leader and the teenage boy finding love for the first time. Combined with jaw-dropping vocals, his phenomenal performance is nothing short of legendary.
Bradley Dean is absolutely thrilling in the role of Falco, creating a complex villain for the piece. Watching Dean in this part is a masterclass in acting as he demonstrates the duality within Obsidian’s leader. Falco is the villain audiences love to hate, his vendetta against the Lost appearing comical at times; but underneath it all is a father’s fear of losing his family. Dean captures this balance perfectly, adding a heartfelt depth to the role. Alongside Dean, Tony-Award Winner Lena Hall sizzles in the role of Sloane, Falco’s wife. Her legendary rock vocals shred the intense score effortlessly and her comedic timing is impeccable in every scene. Onstage, the two share electric chemistry through comedic numbers like Paradise By The Dashboard Light, as well as the heartbreaking It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.
One of the most powerful moments in the musical is a touching rendition of Objects In The Rearview Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are. This beautiful number falls in the second act as members of The Lost reminisce painful past experiences. The verses are split between Tyrick Wiltez Jones, Jessica Jaunich, and Will Branner (now Billy Lewis Jr.) who give stellar vocal performances while honestly communicating the emotions within the songs. It’s an incredible moment of vulnerability in a show full of non-stop spectacle, and always moves me to tears.
Bat Out of Hell is a musical I've revisited over the years, and a question I often get is: Why all the return trips? The answer is simple: it’s an absolute lovefest. Bat manages to capture the magic of first love, the pain of past love, and the love that we feel for our family – both related and chosen. The show also addresses the universal theme of loss; the way it can affect our lives, and how we lean on each other to cope with it. It also just happens to be a rockin’ night out at the theatre.
Bat Out of Hell is bursting with rock ‘n’ roll badassery, but most importantly, it’s full of heart, making it impossible to leave the theatre without grinning from ear to ear.
Bat Out of Hell is onstage at New York City Center until September 8th! Get your tickets now before it’s gone, gone gone!
This summer was not my first trip to Obsidian; so if you’re interested in reading more about my experiences with Bat Out of Hell, feel free to go check out this past post!