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Review: Bat Boy The Musical In Concert (London Palladium)

Review by Daz Gale


Halloween 2023 and the legendary London Palladium stage is playing host to a concert production of spooky musical for one night only. With a cast full of some of the hottest performers in the West End and a creative team responsible for some well-loved other West End shows and events, there was plenty of reasons to be excited for the arrival of Bat Boy – but would this be a show that deserved to be banished to the caves?

Inspired by the fictional creature who was prominent in America in the 1990s, Bat Boy was turned into a musical in 1997, first appearing off-Broadway. It received a four month run in the West End in 2004 but hasn’t been seen in the UK since… until now. It tells the story of Edgar, a creature who is half boy/half bat who id discovered in a cave and is brought to the home of the local veterinarian who takes him in as a member of the family. With secrets about his origin coming in to the light and a town full of people who are convinced he is a monster, will Edgar be able to enjoy a long and happy life with his new adopted family so he can grow from a Bat boy to a Bat man? No wait, that’s the wrong character, never mind.

With a book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, the story explores themes of acceptance and prejudice, drawing obvious comparisons to marginalised communities who face similar battles in their everyday life. What is admirable here is in how Edgar’s characterisation is not played for laughs with moments that could appear funny or throwaway in other lights being handled here with sensitivity, though that in part is thanks to Dean Johnson’s inspired direction. As the show progresses, the story that descend into more absurdist elements with the surrealism upped exponentially. This does lead to developments in the story that can only be described, fittingly, as batsh*t crazy. Perhaps it was a step too far and it did lose me somewhat in the last 15 minutes which descended into a more farcical tone which didn’t quite match up to how the rest of the show had been portrayed.

The one thing that is consistent throughout Bat Boy, however, is the music. With music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe, the songs on offer are glorious from beginning to end with its rock score lending way to gospel elements to create something truly mesmerising, Musical highlights include the My Fair Lady-esque (My fair Bat?) ‘Show You A Thing or Two’ which features comedy highlights from an increasingly responsive Edgar and the rousing act one closer ‘Comfort and Joy’ with its reassuringly familiar sound. Backed by the West End Musical Choir, the sound that emanated off the Palladium stage blessed my ears, making this concert seem more like a Bat out of Heaven than Hell.

Bat Boy may have been billed as a concert production but in the same vein of the original West End concert productions of Death Note and Bonnie & Clyde, the term should be applied very loosely as Bat Boy is far more staged than performers simply singing at a microphone stand. With expert direction from Dean Johnson and stunning movement from Rhys Wilkinson, the production is anything but static with these exciting choices bringing the stage and the story to life in glorious fashion. Andrew Exeter’s set litters the Palladium stage with crosses while his lighting elevates the aesthetic tremendously with an occasional use of flashlights creating an ominous effective. Blending beautifully with great (and often quirky) video design from Dan Light & Andrea Scott ensuring this show is never boring – after all, how could it be?

If the prospect of reviving Bat Boy in London wasn’t enough to draw audiences in, the cast that were recruited for this one night only event more than did the job. No stranger to leading shows with Bat in the title, Jordan Luke Gage once again proved why he is such an outstanding performer with a captivating and charming turn as Edgar. Though his inability to speak or sing played against what we may know Jordan for at first, his recognisable talents emerged as the character grew in a distinctively different performance for Jordan that showcased his versatility as an actor and enormous skill at characterisation. Bat-fans may also have been delighted to see a battle with another leading man from Bat Out Of Hell as Glenn Adamson plays his adversary in what I liked to refer to as a Strat-off.

Put a black wig on Jodie Steele and she was unrecognisable as Shelley, essentially becoming the Clark Kent/Superman of musical theatre. That is until she opens her mouth, of course, once again blowing us away with her immeasurable talent in a performance full of heart and humour. Trevor Dion Nicholas relishes playing a role against type as Dr Thomas Parker, delivering a performance like you have never seen from him before. Lapping up the madness of his characters questionable actions, his no-nonsense approach provides some of the biggest laughs in the show – and any chance to hear that mans astonishing vocals is always a pleasure. Though he is woefully underused, the simply phenomenal Tosh Wonogho-Maud is at his powerful best as he takes us to Church in act two opener ‘A Joyful Noise’ in what was, for me at least, the standout musical performance of the entire show.

As consistently fantastic as all of the cast are in Bat Boy, there is one performance I have to single out as being the standout of the whole show. Step forward, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt. To call her performance camp would be an understatement. With admirable character choices, she takes the role of Meredith and acts as if she is possessed by the spirit of Patti Lupone in a brilliantly overblown performance full of exaggerated movements and dramatic inflictions in seemingly the smallest of moments that make Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek seem subtle in comparison. It’s fair to say, and fitting given the trajectory of her character, that her performance was giving me life. This show may have been about Bat Boy but it was the Bat Mum who stole the show.

It would be remiss not to mention a problem the show encountered on the night as it was plagued by sound difficulties, making lines and lyrics difficult or even impossible to hear which may have made the story harder to follow and risked dampening the enjoyment of some audience members. While this is fairly common for one night only concerts at venues such as the Palladium, it was a shame it impacted the story slightly.

The other flaw I found in the show was in elements of the writing itself. As I have previously described the show as batsh*t crazy, it did seem like it was attempting to fight the more surrealistic elements of the unlikely story, which worked well for the most part as the show managed to navigate the wackier elements of the story initially. However, there was a distinct shift in tone in the shows final section where the absurdity of the story was allowed to fly free for all its fantastical and farcical nature. However, this felt quite jarring given the way the tone had been carefully managed prior to this. It was from the “Revelations” scene where it felt like we were watching a different show – with a sudden twist of events leading to an unsatisfying climax, it was a disappointing conclusion to a production that had otherwise not put a foot wrong. If the show does have a future life in London, I would be interested to see if the climactic moments can be tweaked at all in a way that allowed a consistent tone throughout. There is also the issue that the prospect of a human interacting with a bat leading to a virus may hit differently now than it did when it was first written, given events of the last few years.

While there may have been a couple of issues with the writing of the show, it was clear that this production had meticulously considered its approach to the material and as a result created something pretty fantastic in itself. A truly remarkable cast were shining throughout, no matter how small their role was or how little depth the exposition of their characters had. While certain moments may have been questionable at times, by this point I had been won over by the story itself and was happy to turn a blind eye to these more problematic aspects. Bat Boy is surrealism as its finest - bonkers yet brilliant, there is a lot to love about this as a show and as a standalone production. There is a lot of potential to be had in an extension to this production, should the show get further life. If this presentation is anything to go by, it would be a tragedy if that wasn’t to happen. It may be mad but it's also magnificent.

Bat Boy played at the London Palladium on 31st October.

Keep an eye on for any news on future life for the show.

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