‘Bat Boy: The Musical’ Ascends To New Heights
If you know “Bat Boy” at all, it’s probably from the cover of the old “Weekly World News,” where a wild-eyed rodent-child, fangs agape, stares out at you in the supermarket checkout aisle: does he want blood, or simply love?
It’s also possible you’ve seen the very wry 1992 musical (story and book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, with songs by Laurence O’Keefe). Locally, the excellent New Line Theatre company has produced it twice, with the brilliantly acerbic Todd Schaeffer as Bat Boy each time.
But the crazy thing is that if you change two or three of the major dynamics in the play, it unexpectedly transcends its tabloid spoof origins, becoming far more than what it was: all the hick-hating humor becomes vestigial, and what remains takes glorious, blood-drenched flight.
Director Justin Been pulls off this amazing feat with the feral/deeply earnest Corey Fraine in the title role, and the lovely and sublimely talented Dawn Schmid as a prim but heartfelt housewife in Hope Falls, West Virginia. Deborah Sharn was great as Mrs. Parker in both subtly antic New Line versions. But this time, it’s all played in deadly earnest.
Then there are the village idiots. And in “Bat Boy” that’s ALL the townspeople on stage. Most of the show’s humor is intended to come from these ex-coal miners and church-hobbiests. But in our real-life election year of 2016, there’s suddenly nothing funny about a mob of idiots any longer.
So, for reasons of casting and candidates and clamor, this is a very different “Bat Boy.”
It’s all fresh and strangely real, and director Been has found plenty of smart actors to nail down every psychological foundation the authors can throw at him. Patrick Kelly is the embittered town veterinarian (and husband to Ms. Schmid) and Angela Bubash is their daughter, who haplessly falls in love with the man-child from a deep, dark cave.
It’s almost a pity to fill the stage with comic actors like Colin Dowd, Michael A. Wells and Sarah Rae Womack, when it all turns unexpectedly to a towering, magnificent gothic nightmare. But they’re all reliable in any context, especially here.
For more information visit the Stray Dog Theatre website. “Bat Boy: The Musical” runs through Aug. 20.