City Theater Company’s BAT BOY, THE MUSICAL is a show that should top your list of holiday-season entertainment, even though (or maybe because, depending on your feelings about holiday shows) there is nothing “holiday” about it. It’s a masterfully done musical with an offbeat subject, black humor, sex and violence — you know, the things that sometimes get lost among the warm, fuzzy Christmas specials and holiday productions. The closest BAT BOY gets to holiday spirit is the Act I finale “Comfort and Joy,” a melodically appealing song about murder.
Lawrence O’Keefe’s songs are twisted and often dripping with humor and irony, but the show is more than a campy tribute to the famous Weekly World News story on which BAT BOY is based — it’s filled with social commentary alongside its horror-movie kitsch. The music, performed under the direction of Joe Trainor behind a screen by the stage, is as epic as a 60s rock opera, and the performances, featuring Brendan Sheehan in the most challenging role of Bat Boy, Dana Michael as the maternal Meredith, Paul McElwee as Meredith’s husband and veterinarian Dr. Parker, Jenna Kuerzi as their daughter Shelley, are tight. A stellar ensemble of familiar CTC faces including Adam Wahlberg, Melissa Bernard, Dylan Geringer, Steven Weatherman, and Maggie Cogswell, each play multiple roles, from townsfolk to teens to religious revivalists. At one point, Bernard hilariously plays more than one character at a time.
If you’re unfamiliar with the BAT BOY legend, it’s about a feral, blood-drinking half-human-half-bat discovered in a cave and civilized by a West Virginia family. Sheehan succeeds in bringing Bat Boy to life, from a hissing animal in a cage to a charming, well-educated young man with fangs. The performance is at turns silly and moving, as Bat Boy struggles with both his blood lust and his rejection from society. There are twists and turns that I won’t spoil, but the story is far more involved and engaging than I expected. Highlights include “A Home for You,” featuring Meredith and Bat Boy, “A Joyful Noise,” featuring Weatherman as Reverend Hightower, and the randy “Children Children” featuring Wahlberg as Pan. BAT BOY, like many CTC productions, is not for kids or very sensitive adults.
The weakest thing about BAT BOY has nothing to do with the performances, but is worth noting: The seating arrangement left many audience members straining to see the action when it was near the floor. With a stage at floor-level, a dozen (or so) rows of seats didn’t work well, even with elevated seats in the back. The saving grace is that much of the action takes place on the scaffolding that constitutes the set. I’ve seen many, many shows at the Black Box, with seats arranged in many different ways, and have never noticed the issue before. It appeared the arrangement accommodated more people than previous shows — and it was an enthusiastic full house — leaving me wondering if the CTC is starting to grow out of the tiny Black Box.
BAT BOY, THE MUSICAL
Music & Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe
Story & Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming
Directed by Michael Gray
Music Direction by Joe Trainor
November 30 – December 15, 2012
City Theater Company
4 South Poplar Street
Wilmington DE 19801