So after making that top ten list I remembered a bunch of musicals I wanted to write about. I decided to start with #2 on my list: Bat Boy.
Bat Boy is a musical by Laurence O'Keefe, Brian Flemming and Keythe Farley. I think of it as a show that exists in a world where the tabloids could be true. The idea is based off a 1992 news article about a half boy, half bat creature found in a cave. Bat Boy brings that idea to life. The character of Bat Boy starts as a heathen beast confined to a cage and turns into an educated, well spoken young man (complete with a British accent) and the name Edgar. He grows into this new self with the help of Meredith Parker, a housewife in a less than happy marriage. Soon he develops feelings for Shelly, Meredith's daughter. But Dr. Thomas Parker is less than pleased with Edgar's presence and vows to get rid of him. He doesn't need a lot of help, for the townspeople (5 actors who play a variety of roles) are disgusted by Edgar. Things begin to get out of hand when Edgar's taste for the blood of animals prohibits him from acting fully human.
Sound ridiculous? It is. But Bat Boy finds a genius balance between being ridiculous and utterly believeable. There is not a moment where you go "Oh, give me a break." You are watching, going "This is so freakin' silly but I totally buy it!" You are wildly invested in Edgar and the other characters,. That is if the production is done correctly. Many fall prey to the influence of either side, making it far too melodramatic or far too goofy.
I consider Bat Boy to be one of the best structured musicals of the last fifteen years. Here are my reasons why:
1) The story is unique, funny and easy to follow.
2) The characters are quirky, weird, and funny, making them fun to get attached to.
3) The dialogue flows easily into the music, which serves as a continuation of the action without feeling forced.
4) There is a very distinct tongue in cheek feel towards musical theatre and the tabloids, which keeps the mood light.
5) There is a horrific and emotional element to the plot on top of all the humor.
6) It makes fun of musicals, but unlike the other shows that have attempted this, it is not obvious to anyone but musical theatre geeks. If you have an audience who is new to musical theatre the last thing you should be doing is downplaying the art form or making fun of yourself as you do it. Bat Boy is appropriately goofy with commercial appeal, but it does include references to many musicals.
I was in the Detroit premiere of this show with a cast of outstanding actors. (A picture below...I'm the one with the wacky hairdo in the yellow and purple dress. Yes that is my own hair.) It was incredibly educational because we had to work so hard to find that balance that makes the show work. I felt we did an excellent job of finding the balance, in spite of a less than capable director...our Edgar was simply exceptional, and everyone else was just perfect for their roles...there wasn't a weak link in the bunch. We got lucky that everyone understood the idea appropriately. The key as an actor in this situation, and in most humorous situations, is to play every moment with utter sincerity. Let the audience come to their own terms on whether it's ridiculous or not. As I said, Bat Boy exists in tabloid land. A headline from the Weekly World News is as reliable as the New York Times.
Oh, and have I mentioned the music?? Oh the music! From the first twangy chords of the electric guitar in the opening number and throughout the show, you have song after song that is memorable yet different, infused with wonderful melodies and lyrics that keep the plot moving. For the most part the score has a rock feel, though there are some exceptions: "Another Dead Cow" is as hillbilly country as it gets, "Show You A Thing Or Two" has a bouncy, traditional musical theatre feel (complete with tap dance), and "A Home For You" is a sweet ballad. But it's the rock songs where the score really shines. My favorite is "Comfort And Joy", the Act I finale that combines several individuals in several different scenes singing simultaneously (an homage to Les Miserables and, even before that, West Side Story).
Check this one out if you haven't already. It is guaranteed to make you laugh, gasp, and get down to the super groovy beat!