Bat Boy: The Musical

Is he fact or is he fiction? No matter. That tabloid icon, Bat Boy, is given an astounding portrayal by Deven May in this all-singing, all-dancing Actors' Gang extravaganza, featuring a first-rate score by Laurence O'Keefe and inventively choreographed by Derick LaSalla. This otherwise outstanding ensemble would have been better served, however, if director Keythe Farley (who co-wrote the book with Brian Flemming) had made a clear decision whether to play it straight or as tongue-in-cheek melodrama. At times, the genres collide to the disservice of an otherwise outstanding production.

With:
Deven May (Bat Boy), Ann Closs (Shelley Parker), Kaitlin Hopkins (Meredith Parker), Chris Wells (Thomas Parker), Don Luce (Sheriff), Gary Kelley (Rick), John Michael Morgan (Ron), Julie Ann Taylor (Randy/Lorraine), Elizabeth Tobias (Maggie), Ken Elliott (Ned), Greta Rose Bart (Daisy), Ray Hesselink (Bud).

“Bat Boy: The Musical” brings to life the legendary youth, discovered in a cave in Hope Falls, W.Va., with the body of a boy but a hideously deformed head with pointy ears and razor-sharp teeth. Much to the dismay of the townsfolk who want the beast destroyed, the cautious Sheriff (Don Luce) turns the creature over to the local vet, Thomas Parker (Chris Wells).

Immediately, Parker’s wife, Meredith (Kaitlin Hopkins), and 14-year-old daughter, Shelley (Ann Closs), name the boy Edgar and proceed to civilize the incredibly fast-learning youth to the point where soon he is speaking with a British accent and reading the classics. But Dr. Parker is harboring secret, foreboding information about Edgar’s origins and surreptitiously plots to destroy the child.

The clever scenario, though outrageous, always contains an aura of intriguing plausibility. And to his credit, Farley (with the able assistance of special-effects/mask designers David Rockbello, Xander Berkeley, Greg Gibbs and Chris Bell) creates a supercharged mix of heightened realism, surrealism and fantasy that is always engrossing. Much credit for this must also go to the imaginative production designs of Evan Bartoletti (set), David F. Hahn (lighting), Adam Philius (sound) and Jennifer K. Diebold (costumes).

The work is magnificently served by the emotion-charged, thoroughly realistic performance of May, who catapults himself body and soul into the seared psyche of this child who possesses the mind of a genius but the uncontrollable, blood-craving appetite of a beast. May’s highly musical baritone voice is also displayed to good effect in the reflective “Apology to a Cow.”

Memorably vivid performances are also provided by Hopkins and Closs as Bat Boy’s adoptive mother and sister, respectively. Hopkins’ Meredith exudes a magnetic concern for the boy that makes plausible his transformation. Her beautifully wrought “Brief Shining Moment” is the highlight of the first act. Closs offers an endearing presence as the callow teenager who develops a deep, glowing love for Edgar, demonstrated by her tender, “Ugly Boy” and “Let It Be Me” (in duet with May).

Unfortunately, the fine work of May, Hopkins and Closs is undermined by the unbelievably melodramatic posturing of Wells, who can’t seem to decide whether he is performing his role or commenting on it. It is as if he is acting in a different play than his fellow lead actors. Director Farley also allows this ambivalence to permeate the supporting ensemble as well.

The ingredients are all there. A bit of directorial re-examination could turn “Bat Boy: The Musical” into a true gem.

Bat Boy: The Musical

Actors' Gang El Centro Space; 99 seats; $12 top

Production: The Actors' Gang presents "Bat Boy: The Musical," a musical play in two acts; book by Keythe Farley & Brian Flemming, music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe, directed by Farley. Producer, Mitch Watson; choreographer, Derick LaSalla; music director, O'Keefe; scenic design, Evan Bartoletti; lighting design, David F. Hahn.

Creative: Costume design, Jennifer K. Diebold; sound design, Adam Philius; makeup/special effects, David Rockbello; masks, Xander Berkeley, Rockbello; shadow bats, Chris Bell. Opened and reviewed Nov. 7, 1997; runs until Dec. 7. Running time: 2 hours.

Cast: Deven May (Bat Boy), Ann Closs (Shelley Parker), Kaitlin Hopkins (Meredith Parker), Chris Wells (Thomas Parker), Don Luce (Sheriff), Gary Kelley (Rick), John Michael Morgan (Ron), Julie Ann Taylor (Randy/Lorraine), Elizabeth Tobias (Maggie), Ken Elliott (Ned), Greta Rose Bart (Daisy), Ray Hesselink (Bud).

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