Inspired by a tabloid headline from the Weekly World News, “Bat Child Found in Cave,” this musical is a batty blend of old AIP horror films, “My Fair Lady” and sentimental family sagas that urge people to love outsiders who differ drastically from the norm. First launched at Tim Robbins’ Actors’ Gang, then transferred to Off Broadway, the show returns in an uneven but entertaining Whitefire Theater staging. A game cast attacks their goofy roles with relish, although many of them have a tough time singing Laurence O’Keefe’s eclectic score.
What works best in this Staged Souls production is the imaginative Keythe Farley/Brian Flemming book and RJ Jordan’s touching portrayal of the creature with a heart of gold who longs for love and acceptance.
Directors John C. Auer and Jeremy Radin stir up excitement quickly when teenagers Rick Taylor (Max Artsis), Ron Taylor (Cory Wyszynski) and Ruthie Taylor (Hallie Cooper) encounter the pointy-eared Bat Boy in a cave and he buzzes around, biting Ruthie and triggering a mysterious illness.
The Taylors capture the monster and turn him over to Sheriff Reynolds (Lucas Whitehead). Town vet Dr. Tom Parker (Radin) is eventually prevailed upon to dispose of Bat Boy, but Parker’s wife, Meredith (Hannah McMurray), convinces him to spare the youngster’s life.
Before long, the flawed hero is educated to a point where his immaculate British diction rivals Professor Higgins’. Family happiness is short-lived, however, after Parker notes his wife’s preference for the interloper. Suddenly Parker morphs into a mad serial killer, knocking off Ruthie and blaming it on Bat Boy.
Although the onstage band brings rhythmic life to O’Keefe’s music, chord clinkers are heard. Despite this, the cleverness of O’Keefe’s melodies and lyrics manages to break through.
There are too many songs, especially in the show’s complicated, plot-packed conclusion, but O’Keefe’s tunes ably combine rap, gospel, rock and soft-shoe.
Among the production’s most endearing numbers are “Hold Me, Bat Boy,” McMurray and Jordan’s duet “A Home for You” and the rousing first-act closer “Comfort and Joy.” Also notable is Molly Hager’s gospel standout “A Joyful Noise.”
In general, the performers don’t project clearly enough over the band, submerging O’Keefe’s witty lyrics.
Rob Henderstein’s Bat Boy makeup is subtly effective, in line with Jordan’s understated take on the title role. Jordan is sensitively directed by Auer and Radin to emphasize the pathetic sadness of his plight. All his fluttering physical moves carry the proper poignancy, and constant childish pouting never completely masks the truth: His bat chemistry still craves blood.
A final confrontation with murderous Parker is well staged, even if the hyperactively heaped-on revelations make it difficult for the aud to react emotionally.
Along with Jordan’s modulated, carefully shaded central portrayal, McMurray stays gently and firmly in character as Bat Boy’s adoptive mother. Her devotion has reality, and though we suspect Bat Boy is doomed, she offers hope that he might survive. When she discovers her daughter, Shelley (Randi Oerlemans, who supplies lively choreography), is in love with Bat Boy, her responses give depth to her opposition to any romance between them.
Enjoyable as “Bat Boy” is, it needs the increased tension that a couple of terrifying scenes could provide. Radin’s Dr. Parker hits the right notes between paternal concern and menace, but the let’s-kill-him mob mentality of the townspeople lacks danger, and the show seems too timid about going for the jugular.