It's been a long three years since Jim Steinman's musical Bat Out Of Hell last performed in London, concluding the second of its West End runs at the Dominion Theatre in January 2019. Now, much later than planned, Bat is back on a tour around the UK, and this week it's pitching up in London.
It's full disclosure time. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love this show. I never expected to love it as much as I did, but I ended up going back to see it in the West End repeatedly (I won't say how many times but it's double digits). For this review, I'm going to look at this production in two perspectives - how it fairs as a production with my pre-existing knowledge of the previous one, and imagining this was the first time seeing the show. Being completely unbiased, my long love of this show is going to be paused for the purpose of this review.
Decades in the making, Bat Out Of Hell features the iconic songbook of the late, great Jim Steinman (not all the songs in the show were sung by MeatLoaf). A loose retelling from Peter Pan, it tells the story of a post apocalyptic society featuring a group of people called The Lost who remain 18 forever, one of whom falls in love with the daughter of the tyrannical ruler of Obsidian. What follows is a story about love and rebellion.
What made Bat Out Of Hell special to watch in the West End was its huge stage complete with brilliant special effects. Obviously this has been scaled down drastically for the touring production as it just wouldn't be possible to recreate it on the same scale for smaller stages. The stage is still fairly impressive, though the way the motorbike crawls on to the stage at a snails pace does lose the impact of the powerful title number.
While changes to the staging and effects were necessary, changes to the story are quite bizarre. We have lost a character from the show entirely, scenes have been cut and replaced with new ones, different dialogue, songs removed and another reinstated, and most strangely at all, a character who previously died... doesn't. This would all be well and good if they made sense at all, but it is all very messy and makes a show that wasn't always the most coherent even more confusing. The previously dead character surviving means the previously emotional 'Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through' lacks the gut punch it always had.
Bat Out Of Hell has always been a bit of a Marmite show. The barely there plot was forgiven due to the exceptional staging. Take that away and mess with the formula of it, it exposes the weaknesses of the piece. I tried to look at the show as if I had no knowledge of previous productions to compare it to. I concluded that as a newcomer, I would be confused and fairly underwhelmed.
An expert cast have been assembled to tackle this production. Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton return to the roles of Falco and Sloane, having originated them and played them on and off since the shows UK premiere 5 years ago. Rob and Sharon have grown into the roles and are clearly having more fun with it now, even unexpectedly including a Donald Duck impression. Their chemistry is undeniable (helped by the fact they are a partnership away from the show) and are undoubtedly the best thing about the show. Their volatile relationship forms a part of Bat I wish was explored in more depth, with 'Paradise By The Dashboard Light' providing one of the most showstopping moments of the evening, while 'What Part Of My Body Hurts The Most' seems to get better every time the pair perform it.
The other main roles are new additions to the Bat family. Glenn Adamson plays a very different Strat than I've been used to, with some questionable character choices though he delivers his performances with a fantastic voice. Martha Kirby is sensational as Raven, skulking around the stage and delivering some killer vocals throughout. Joelle Moses is a standout as Zahara showcasing a heavenly voice on 'Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad' while Killian Thomas Lefevre has the voice of an Angel and is capable of melting even Falco's heart as Tink.
What makes Bat Out Of Hell special is the incredible songbook it uses. Say what you want about jukebox musicals, these numbers lend themselves well to a musical theatre setting. With iconic songs like 'I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)', 'Dead Ringer For Love' and of course 'Bat Out Of Hell' itself, it's hard not to be taken in by the music. 'It's All Coming Back To Me Now' may be best known as one of Celine Dions best hits but it feels at home as part of a musical, expertly performed by Marthy Kirby to deliver one of the vocal highlights of the night, closely followed by her stunning 'Heaven Can Wait'.
Bat Out Of Hell still boasts one of the greatest songbooks you will ever see in a musical, expertly performed by an incredibly talented past. The problem is that Bat can be done better and has been done better in the past. Even if I'm not comparing this to past productions, as a standalone piece it felt underwhelming with its flaws becoming more apparent than perhaps they have in the past.
To repeat what I said earlier, I love Bat Out Of Hell but I'm sorry to say this production fell flat for me and I couldn't help but leave feeling disappointed. With that said, even an average performance of Bat Out Of Hell has its merits and is definitely worthy of a watch. This show has been deeply missed so I was still thankful to have the chance to see Bat back on stage where it belongs. It would be easy for me to be blinded by my feelings and give Bat Out Of Hell a higher rating - I'd do anything for my love of this show, but I won't do that.
Bat Out Of Hell plays at New Wimbledon Theatre until January 29th. It then continues its UK tour until November 2021. Full dates and tickets at www.BatOutOfHellMusical.com