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Bat Boy: The Musical

Hold Me, Bat Boy

By Fred Choi

Bat Boy: The Musical

Directed by Scott Schwartz

Written by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming

Music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe

Union Square Theater

100 East 17th Street, New York City

Tickets $55-$35

Rush tickets available two hours before each show

While Broadway is busy obsessing over the phenomenon that is The Producers and struggling with its slew of high-budget flops and

unoriginal adaptations, off-Broadway continues to provide new, clever, and high-quality alternatives. The off-Broadway hit of this season is Bat Boy, a high-energy tragicomedy that is certainly the first cult show of the new century. It provides a fresh spin on the musical, a struggling art form which in recent years has felt static and stale.

The musical, which opened in late March of this year, is based on a recurring character in the Weekly World News, an infamous supermarket tabloid. Bat Boy, half-boy, half-bat, is found in a cave in West Virginia near a small hick town and adopted by the family of a local veterinarian, Dr. Parker. The show concerns the creature and the Parkers’ efforts to integrate Bat Boy, whom they rename Edgar, into their home and their town.

Although the premise of the show is simple and faintly familiar, the show’s creators (written by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe) make the show a must-see by stuffing it with outrageous small-town characters, witty dialogue and songs, a host of tabloid-worthy plot twists, and a concentrated, feigned seriousness. The entirely top-notch cast, which includes the superb Deven May as the title character, infuses the production with a Rent-like energy. The actors thoroughly enjoy themselves in the madcap doubling of characters (in often gender-bending roles). Under the direction of Scott Schwartz, the visual gags and the staging of the show become as indispensable as the material, especially in its inclusion of endless references (some perhaps unintentionally) to musicals as wide and varied as Julie Taymor’s production of The Lion King, The Who’s Tommy, Jonathan Larson’s Rent, Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd, and countless Disney animated musicals.

The cast recording of the show, released this past week, loses a significant amount of the power of the stage version, including some of the show’s most entertaining performances, such as May’s Bat Boy, Trent Armand Kendall’s Reverend Hightower, and Kathy Brier’s performances as a bad-ass boy and a fluffy mayoress. On disc Kaitlin Hopkin’s and Kerry Butler’s Mrs. Parker and Shelley Parker are completely on target, with Butler combining the sweetness of her experience as Eponine in Les MisÉrables to the production with edgy MTV-chick teenage angst. The two play off each other with a catchy spontaneity and their duet “Three Bedroom House” is one of the disc’s many highlights.

Even without the staging O’Keefe’s score still stands strongly on its own. It is refreshing to fully appreciate O’Keefe’s well-written songs, which are often obscured during performance by the audience’s riotous laughter. O’Keefe shares Alan Menken’s keen ear for pastiche, and his catchy score, though often tied a little too closely to its sources, is always effective. The songs breezily flow their way through rap, folk ballad, hoe down, gospel, and pop idioms, and O’Keefe skillfully combines the pastiche with the off-the-wall, raunchy humor of Monty Python and the rock sensibility of Jonathan Larson. Out of context, the book songs and ballads show themselves to be surprisingly melodic, as in the rousing “Hold Me, Bat Boy,” the first act’s perfectly paced finale, “Comfort and Joy,” the tender “A Home For You,” and the love duet “Inside Your Heart.”

The lyrics remain surprisingly effective even after multiple listenings. O’Keefe’s lyrics often display an Ogden Nash-like sense of humor as in “Children, Children,” during which the spirit of the forest croons to two lovers: “The Earth’s asleep, time to wake it/If you have clothing, forsake it/We want you breathless, and naked,” and in the opening number during which the cast claims, “They stripped him of his dignity/They beat him like a gong/And he was kicked repeatedly/And that was wrong!/So wrong!”

Despite its successes, however, the recording does have its flaws and reveals weaknesses in the score. The recording makes the repetition of some melodies more obvious and the counterpoint in the duets tends to be a little too predictable. The orchestrations, even with the aid of extra musicians for the recording, generally sound thin and canned. Although the recording captures the quirkiness of the show while effectively hinting at the plethora of visual and non-musical comedic moments, the cast, despite its noble attempts, fails to fully suggest the explosive excitement of the live performance.

Enjoy the CD, but for the full experience, check out the show, currently running indefinitely in New York.