Bat Boy The Musical: Gladstone Production Enhances the Material

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photograph by Barbara Gray

The cult status of some shows can often be mystifying. Take the 1997 off-Broadway musical Batboy which has romped onto the Gladstone Theatre stage in a spirited production far more worthy than the material itself.

With its unapologetic excess of camp, its determination to send up the conventions of both the horror movie and the Broadway musical, its cheeky disregard of the need for psychological plausibility or characters which go beyond the stereotype, Batboy (which was inspired by a spoof news item in the satiric publication, Weekly World News) may strike purists as a mess. However, rather like the Rocky Horror Picture Show, it’s a mess that insists we like it — but to serve that purpose, you need ensemble playing which goes beyond the call of duty. We get that thanks to director Dave Dawson, obviously an adroit ringmaster when it comes to this sort of thing. Even so, what we’re left with is the tritely familiar story of the loner kid who wants to belong; that the musical is also seeking to send up this cliché plot merely adds to the thematic confusion, given that despite the show’s anarchic disposition, we actually feel sorry for the title character.

The ever-watchable Zachary Counsil’s portrayal of Batboy — the purported half-boy-half-bat found living wild in a cave in redneck West Virginia — is actually nuanced and sometimes poignant as he struggles with the real world after being adopted into a local family anxious to nurture him and care for him. (Well, to be accurate, there’s at least one family member with a more sinister agenda: good old dad who’s also the local vet and wields a lethal syringe). At the start, Counsil has only body and facial language at his disposal to give us some sense of this untamed, inarticulate, fearful creature of the caverns, but he succeeds— refusing, in contrast with most other people on stage, to send up his character and making a legitimate plea for our compassion. Later, after he miraculously acquires speech and a formal English accent — and yes, things are becoming preposterous, but Batboy is that kind of show — he’s able to give his characterization more depth and charm, even after the script goes completely bonkers and the community is ready to destroy him. Most important of all, he always has vulnerability. It must be said that Counsil looks a bit reluctant when required to sink his fangs — yes, he has pointed teeth as well as pointy ears — into the carcass of a rabbit, but perhaps this is a subliminal dislike of being relegated by horror movie tradition to that small section of the chiropatera species which prefers blood to fresh fruit and insects.

But in any event, this is the performance which gives the production some sort of anchor.

That Batboy works so well is due to Dave Dawson’s success in drawing powerhouse ensemble work from a cast coping with a trite and sloppy script by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming and largely indifferent music from Lawrence O’Keefe. However, O’Keefe’s smart, observant lyrics are another matter; more the pity then that they are often incoherent thanks to awful miking and the overly-obtrusive presence of the lively band under the direction of Steven Lafond.

Still there are genuinely entertaining performances — from Rebekah Shirey as the mother in Batboy’s adoptive family and Alessia Lupiano as the daughter who naturally has a yen for him, from Tim Oberholtzer, celebrating the B Western tradition as a swaggering and drawling sheriff, from Rebecca Perry conducting a rousing revival meeting as a travelling evangelist, and especially from Kris Joseph who is maniacally menacing as the evil doctor of veterinarian medicine, and enthusiastically debauched as the great god Pan.

Batboy: The Musical
Story and Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming
Music and Lyrics by Lawrence O’Keefe

Roy, Mrs. Taylor, Man From The Institute…………………….David B. Brown
Mayor Maggie, Ruthie Taylor……………………………………Hilary Carroll
Ron Taylor, Bud…………………………………………………….Mathieu Charlebois
Bat Boy………………………………………………………………..Zachary Counsil
Dr Parker The God Pan, Clem……………………..…………Kris Joseph
Daisy…………………….……………………………………………..Victoria Elisabeth Luloff
Rick Taylor, Ned, Dance Captain…………………..…………..Ben Montgomery
Sheriff Reynolds………………….…………………………………Tim Oberholzer
Rev. Billy Hightower, Lorraine, Doctor…………………………Rebecca Perry
Meredith Parker………………………………………………………Rebekah Shirey

Director………………….……………………………………………..Dave Dawson
Musical Director………………….…………………………………..Steven Lafond
Set………………………………………………………………………..Pierre Ducharme
Costumes………………….……………………………………………Maggie Matian
Props…………………….……………………………………………….JonahAllingham
Gladstone Theatre: Jan 15 to Feb. 2
Ticket Information: 613 233 GLAD

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