Douglas Mayo reviews Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell The Musical which returns to London at the Dominion Theatre.
Bat Out Of Hell
19 April 2018
I remember watching a made for TV movie many moons ago which chronicled the meeting of a young Jim Steinman and a young Meatloaf and the trials and disappointments involved in writing Bat Out Of Hell and the rejection of the material by just about every record company going. Nobody truly understood Steinman’s attempts to create epic stories in each song driven by the intensity of hjis brand of incredible rock ‘n’ roll. It’s to his credit that 40 years later and two sequel albums later, his vision of turning these now classic songs into a staged work has become a reality and it’s quite something to behold.
Just as Ben Elton’s book for We Will Rock You drew on the Arthurian legend and his Tonight’s The Night shamelessly ripped-off Faust, so to Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell the musical uses J. M Barrie’s influencesto set this musical as a dytopian Peter Pan, with Strat and Raven taking on the role of a modern Peter and Wendy, complete with a gang of misfits (lost boys) who have been chemically frozen at the age opf eighteen so as never to age. There’s even a c haracter called Tink and at one point I thought we’d also be asked to yell that we did believe – well luckily, it never got to that.
It’s great that the Dominion Theatre has finally found a show that works in it’s cavernous space. The venue mercilessly ate up and spat out the tiny recent production of An American In Paris, but here Jon Bausor’s set designs reach right out into the audience, an extended thrust really brings the audience right into the action in a show where the big scenes are huge and the intimate scenes magically work on a stage that reminds one of grand opera thanks to director Jay Schieb’s careful staging.
As Strat, Andrew Polec is an incredible find. His scrawny, pale build and unkempt hair hide a voice that is perfectly suited to Steinman’s incredible score. Quite where that voice comes from I shall never know but he delivers a flawless performance with a vocal dexterity that I’ve seldom scene in any rock musical. Indeed, this cast is blessed with some of the most talented vocalists around. Rob Fowler’s machismo leaps off the stage as he belts his way through Paradise By The Dashboard Light accompanied by onstage wife Sharon Sexton. Danielle Steers as sultry but brash Sahara belts it out of the ballpark, Giovani Spano’s Ledoux let’s rip with effortless ease giving a rich full sound to his numnbers, Wayne Robinson’s searing rock tenor a perfect compliment to Danielle Steers and Jonathan Cordin’s Blake although underutilised, bought acting honesty and vocal clarity to his brief passages in the songs. These epic talents were perfectly balanced against the soft lyric moments presented by Alex Thomas-Smith’s Tink and Christina Bennington’s Raven. Like Polec Bennington is a talent to watch, her ability to perefectly deliver Steinman classics gave some much needed moments of inner reflection to this full on production and was a joy to hear!
The talented ensemble backing up Bat Out Of Hell are nothing short of perfect, even if straddled with some of the weirdest choreography I’ve ever seen on stage. Emma Portner’s bizarre steps in some scenes like Paradise by the Dashboard Light in particular were more distracting that complimentary to the production.
These things aside there are some things about this production of Bat Out Of hell the musical that just don’t work and foremost amongst these is Gareth Owen’s sound design. Sat in the middle of B Row in the Circle, lyrics were completely unintelligable for anything with more than a duet. If this show is to survive and bring in audiences unfamiliar with Steinman’s material something needs to be done to solve this cloudy sound mix that for me was the shows biggest disappointment.
There is also a big mismatch between the shows musical numbers and some of the show’s big book scenes. It comes down to the musical exuberance of the songs and the crashing silence surrounding the dialogue in the book scenes. It’s almost a shame that some form of minimal underscoring couldn’t be implemented to give tone to those scenes. In the second act as Sloane is returning to Falco, there’s a brief moment where underscoring is employed and the difference is marked.
Robert Emery’s rock orchestra of eleven brings Steve Sidwell’s orchestrations to vivid life, with Emery even making a brief onstage appearance mid act bringing down the house in the process.
Like those shows that have come before it the plot is paper thin, but with the sound remedied, Bat Out Of hell has the capacity to be a long-running fixture in London’s West End and a perfect show for the Dominion Theatre.