By: Edward Medina
August 25, 2019: For an entire generation Bat Out of Hell was the ultimate musical life force. Alone or in packs we drove our cars with the windows rolled down and the engines revving wide open while we sang and howled the songs into the night. We parked on side streets and empty parking lots and made out with the tunes running in the background as we steamed up the windows ‘til the break of dawn. When we weren’t in our cars, we spun our turntables and gleefully wore down the grooves in the vinyl. We turned the sound up, we blew the speakers, and we worshiped at Meatloaf’s rock and roll alter of angst and lust. His vocals and Jim Steinman’s lyrics hit a nerve and we responded with an adrenaline rush of need and want. Now decades later we’ve been given a musical version that nostalgia may have wanted but that none of us really needed.
In all its bloviated excess, Bat Out of Hell the Musical has added proof to the adage that just because you can do something it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. The original Bat Out of Hell is a concept album that if listened to carefully has a deep and moving love story at its core. It also has some of the greatest rock music ever written and at least one, if not two, of the greatest rock ballads ever penned and performed. It has power and drive but it also has subtlety and nuance. something which all great stories have. Bat Out of Hell the Musical has an overdose of the former and none of the latter. This unfortunately misguided translation was not assembled by storytellers. This travesty was assembled by a committee that met to try and force an outcome they desired on an already powerful piece of work and everyone knows that a wolf assembled by committee results in a hellhound that’s all bark with no genuine bite.
The story of the combined original album and its two follow up discs were originally going to be based on the tale of Peter Pan but Steinman decided not to go that way once the estate of J.M. Barrie got wind of his plans and vehemently objected. That objection should have been heeded. The committee in question decided to revisit that world for their creation and then broke every rule in it. They forced all the songs into the framework of the classic story, removed the innocense, modernized it with a post-apocalyptic world, turned up the volume to twelve on the amp, and then couldn’t keep anything straight as it all unraveled. They stuffed the bursting seams with this and that and ended up with a Peter Pan monster, augmented with additional body parts from Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Mad Max, and Cats which were then all stitched together into an unholy mess.
The parts that aren’t egregious are insufferable and the short lived mild cheers followed by tepid applause, along with laughter and giggles at inappropriate moments and the empty seats after intermission, support that. The ensemble cast is not at fault here. They were hired to do a job and they delivered what they were instructed to deliver. They performed in earnest. Lena Hall as the Hook like villain’s wife Sloane gives a “walks away with it all” powerhouse performance. She almost makes it worth enduring everything around her. Avionce Hoyles as Tink tugs at the heartstrings and makes one long for a better show around him.
The rest of Bat Out of Hell the Musical is a tragically missed opportunity. The biggest sin here is the possible ruination of the magic of the source material for this generation and all that follows. There are those that will want to experience this train wreck of a production for themselves and perhaps they should but if you truly want to enjoy Bat Out of Hell download the original. If you want the music screamed at you, number by mind numbing number, then go see the show. If you want to hear true musical story telling stay home, close your eyes, and listen to some real rock and roll. Alexa will give you a better show for your money.
Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical **
New York City Center
131 W. 55th St., NYC
Through September 8, 2019
Photography: Little Fang