There was a time when Bat out of Hell the Musical had pre-show on-stage projections and a four-page newspaper to help explain the context and the storyline. Neither feature in this touring production, although neither are necessary in an updated version with significant changes to how things were the last time the show played in London. And why not? The world, after all, has changed in the last couple of years – at one point, hand sanitiser is even used on stage, which got a cheer from an attentive Wimbledon audience. The book, music and lyrics are all by Jim Steinman (1947-2021) and his recent passing hasn’t stopped the creatives from continuing to make changes and refinements.
Naturally, not everyone will agree with all of the changes – and there have been some ruthless cuts, including whole musical numbers and surrounding scenes – nonetheless, they are, overall, when one takes a few steps back and tries to evaluate the production as it now stands, improvements rather than setbacks. The staging, at least at Wimbledon, works well: both the London Coliseum and Dominion Theatre runs had a set so large that it was difficult to take everything in. Here, it’s difficult not to focus on what is happening, even when more than one scene is being played out at the same time. In other words, it’s easier on the eyes.
It’s easy on the ears, too, with the sound pitched perfectly, allowing every line to be heard with crystal clarity, with the volume steadily rising to a crescendo at the close of the performance, with two anthemic tunes, ‘It’s All Coming Back To Me Now’ and ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’ appearing in quick succession. The ensemble is kept busier than they would be in most productions, with ‘Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are’ providing opportunities for solo verses for characters who are, frankly, otherwise largely in the background – Danny Whelan’s Ledoux was the stand-out for me in the ‘Objects’ line-up.
Interestingly, every character is named, although looking at the cast list, I don’t recall each and everyone being called out by name during the show. It’s a way, I suppose, of saying that every person on stage is a valued part of the evening’s proceedings. The storyline is, admittedly, somewhat predictable, especially once one realises this is a rock musical take on Peter Pan. It’s nothing short of an elaborate feast for the senses (or, if one wanted to be unkind, an assault on them): live videos are projected onto a huge screen, and the show’s stagehands are kept busy with motorcycles, a couch and even a car making appearances. The lighting is spectacular, albeit not quite perfect on press night, with the odd spotlight going astray, but it does much to create an atmosphere appropriate to the scene being played out.
Joelle Moses’ Zahara has such a wonderful voice, while James Chisholm is utterly convincing as her love interest Jagwire – the pair shine in ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’ in the first half, and in ‘Dead Ringer For Love’ in the second. A close scrutiny of the show’s programme reveals that the chemistry between Rob Fowler’s Falco and Sharon Sexton’s Sloane feels very real, because it is very real: having a real-life couple on stage in those roles only enhances the show, given the characters’ narrative arcs. I remain undecided as to whether ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ or ‘What Part of My Body Hurts The Most’ is their best number: perhaps ‘Body’ just edges it, for its sheer poignancy and emotional impact.
Martha Kirby’s Raven, Falco and Sloane’s daughter, epitomises the adage that money doesn’t buy happiness. Kirby gives a nuanced performance from the outset: the opening (spoken word) number, ‘Love and Death and the American Guitar’, is delivered with warmth and subtlety. But she is just as comfortable belting out the kind of rock anthems this production is filled with. Wanting to “explore the subways” and discover how life is like for those who don’t live with millionaire parents, she’s fallen for Glenn Adamson’s Strat, whom her father forbids her to see for reasons explained in the narrative. This instruction, of course, young love being what it is, intensifies her longing – and indeed his, and both are at pains to pursue something disallowed.
Adamson’s take on Strat, in a nutshell, oozes with confidence and assuredness. A man openly displaying sexually provocative moves and later talking about Raven as though she were an object to be acquired isn’t something that would necessarily go down very well with contemporary audiences.
But the audience was largely amused by Strat’s conduct, which if anything led to an impressive display of various positions (ahem). Adamson’s stage presence is remarkable, and somehow makes what could be a dislikeable and ostentatious character rather charming. It’s a remarkable performance that has to be seen to be believed. And I don’t say that to all the boys.
It’s also worth mentioning the eight-piece band, led by Robert Emery, who, for instance, play for what must be at least a full minute before a lyric is sung in the show’s title number: certain members also get a brief moment of stage time in a scene that had the audience laughing out loud (even if it ultimately served no narrative purpose). Big, bold and bonkers, this is a passionate and enjoyable production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
It’s electrified audiences in London, New York, Toronto and Germany, and won the audience-voted Evening Standard Award for Best New Musical. Now, Jim Steinman’s spectacular musical BAT OUT OF HELL hits the highway on a UK tour in 2022.
Bringing to life the legendary anthems of Jim Steinman & Meat Loaf, this critically-acclaimed production uniquely combines the magic and excitement of a musical with the immense energy of rock ‘n’ roll. Join Strat, the forever young leader of rebellious gang ‘The Lost’ as he falls in love with Raven, the beautiful daughter of the tyrannical ruler of Obsidian.
This award-winning wild child musical thunders through powerhouse hits including I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), Paradise By The Dashboard Light, Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, Dead Ringer For Love and Bat Out of Hell, in an exciting over the top theatrical spectacle unlike any other.
18 – 29 January New Wimbledon Theatre 0844 8717 615*
Book Tickets for New Wimbledon Theatre
1 – 5 February Stockton Globe 0843 904 0071
8 – 19 February Edinburgh Playhouse 0844 871 7615*
Book Tickets for Edinburgh Playhouse
12 – 16 April His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen
26 – 30 April Stoke Regent Theatre 0844 871 7615*
Book Tickets for Regent Theatre Stoke
3 – 7 May Sheffield Lyceum Theatre 0114 249 6000
24 – 28 May Eastbourne Congress Theatre 01323 412 000
14 – 25 June Milton Keynes Theatre 0844 871 7615*
Book Tickets for Milton Keynes Theatre
28 June – 2 July Mayflower Theatre Southampton 02380 711811
www.mayflower.org.uk On sale 1 July
12 – 23 July Theatre Royal Plymouth 01752 267222
www.theatreroyal.com On sale 23 July
26 July – 6 August Newcastle Theatre Royal 0844 811 2121
www.theatreroyal.co.uk On sale soon
9 – 20 August Bristol Hippodrome 0844 871 7615*
Book Tickets for Bristol Hippodrome
23 – 27 August Belfast Grand Opera House 028 9024 1919
30 August – 10 September Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin 0818 719 377 (ROI)
bordgaisenergytheatre.ie 0844 248 5101 (UK NI)
13 – 24 September Hull New Theatre 01482 300306
27 September – 1 October New Theatre, Cardiff 07925 659065
4 – 15 October Liverpool Empire 0844 871 7615*
Book Tickets for Liverpool Empire
25 October – 5 November New Victoria Theatre, Woking 0844 871 7615*
Book Tickets for New Victoria Theatre
Further dates to be announced