Rock and Roll meets the Kids From Fame in the West End
What: Bat Out of Hell – The Musical
Who: Jim Steinman et al
Where: The Coliseum, London
When: July 2017
I remember everything! I remember everything as if it happened only yesterday…
About a life time ago I was playing football on the front lawn of my friend, Richard Chipchase. During a break in the game, he mentioned that his brother had seen a new band on “The Old Grey Whistle Test” the night before. He said that their name was “Meatloaf” and his brother said we ought to look out for them. Neither of us realised that Meat Loaf wasn’t a band but the singer.
Not long after, I picked up “Bat Out of Hell”. Then “Bad For Good” (composer Jim Steinman’s own album). Then “Dead Ringer” (remember buying that one in Casa Disco on the day it came out, assistant grumbling that she was fed up with taking the empty album sleeve back to the rack).
After that you realised that Meat relied on Steinman to come up with the songs to be at his peak. There was a long wait until “Bat Out of Hell II” and then another falling out between Steinman and Mr Loaf which surrounded “Bat Out of Hell III”.
There was a general deterioration in Meat Loaf’s health and voice and then another Meat Loaf / Steinman disc, “Braver Than We Are”.
And then there was “Bat Out of Hell – The musical” in Manchester and then it moved to London, the city where I live.
Musicals are not my thing – although I was in a touring musical once (that was years ago when I was young and foolish) so I decided to give this one a wide berth.
But then I was asked to go along and see the show and offer some comments prior to a possible transfer. So with some trepidation I decided to do just that.
If the show has flaws, it would be, firstly, that the dancing, is a little predictable. Think “I’m going to live forever” and you won’t be far wrong. Secondly, some of the scenes are a little too Broadway and not enough dirty rock and roll – both visually and instrumentally. The scene around Raven’s birthday party is particularly guilty of this.
Raven (Christina Bennington) is the daughter of Falco (Rob Fowler) and is approaching her 18th birthday at the outset of the story and is a little too enamoured of The Lost, a local gang who are more “real” than her mother and father.
Falco appears to be some kind of dictator and producer of industrial effluent but the exact nature of this is never explained. He is married to Sloane (Sharon Sexton) who he committed to in a scene that is acted out to “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” – complete with the baseball narrative which is in the background of the original recording. Where have you gone, Phil Rizzuto. A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
Indeed, all the songs that were used on the original “Bat Out of Hell” album are used within the musical. Andrew Polec who plays the male lead, Strat, does not have Meat Loaf’s original vocal range but then who does. There is a reason why Steinman needed Meat, rather than singing vocals to his own songs or utilising Rory Dodd (which he did from time-to-time). It is sometimes forgotten that the relationship between Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman was mutually beneficial and necessary. Polec is charismatic, a good stage presence and within his range, a perfectly good singer.
The best singer on stage is the aforementioned Christina Bennington, who is tremendous and should be a star in her own right beyond the musical field. It also helps her that the majority of songs that she sings are not usually associated with a female voice – Steinman’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, for example, is not part of the show. And so when she handles something like “Heaven Can Wait”, she does not have to bear the comparisons that Polec does.
Another inevitable comparison will be made between Danielle Steers and Cher. Ms Steers handles the female vocal on “Dead Ringer For Love” here as Cher did on the “Dead Ringer” album. Their voices are very similar. Danielle also takes a large part of the vocal on “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” earlier in the show and it sounds like Cher covering the song. It wasn’t hard to guess which vocal she would be handling later.
Some of the songs that Steinman was to see released after the first “Bat” album fit clumsily in the storyline. For example, the excellent “Objects in the Rear View Mirror…” is given to members of The Lost to sing and since they appear to be 18 (even if the audience is meant to remember that they are perpetually frozen at that age) don’t appear to have the life experience and transitions to carry Mr Steinman’s more mature lyrics.
There are many great moments in the show – “Making Love Out of Nothing At All”, and predictably “Bat Out of Hell” and “I Would Do Anything For Love”.
Visually, the production, at its best moments, is a tour-de-force. We have exploding motorbikes, erupting fire, large screen backdrops, and all the fun of the fair. There is one scene where instead of keeping a motorbike stationary, it creeps across the stage at a very slow speed while meant to be going very fast but this is one of only a very few visual elements that could have been improved. We will allow a little faux pas here and there.
In Ms Bennington’s bedroom, a “Bad For Good” poster hangs on the wall next to her bed. For a time, it looks like Meat Loaf’s part in the legacy of the last 40 years will go unrecognised. Then towards the very end, Falco reappears from an apparent drowning with a red handkerchief attached to his wrist. Just the right kind of nod in the right direction.
And just the right end to a good night at the theatre…