Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Batboy: The Musical"

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Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi


"BATBOY: THE MUSICAL"

music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe

story and book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming

directed by Paul Daigneault; music directed by Roger Grodsky

choreographed by David Connolly

Miguel Cervantes … Batboy
Kerry Dowling … Meredith Parker
Michael Mendiola … Dr. Thomas Parker
Sara Chase …. Shelley Parker
David Krinitt … Sheriff Reynolds
Austin Lesch … Rick Taylor; Lorraine; Doctor; Mr. Dillon
Lisa Korak … Ron Taylor, Maggie, Clem
Sarah O’Malley … Ruthie Taylor; Ned
Mary Callanan … Mrs. Taylor; Roy; Rev. Hightower; Institute Man
Kevin Alan Ramsey … Bud; Daisy; Pan

How many musicals can you name where the leading man plays a scene with the severed head of a cow? Hopefully, you’ll answer, “Only one --- BATBOY: THE MUSICAL”, which is receiving its New England premiere at the SpeakEasy Stage Company. And one such musical is enough, thank you.

Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming and Laurence O’Keefe base their tale on the tabloid stories of the early 1990s about a “batboy” --- a wild child with pointed ears and fangs --- supposedly found in an underground cave and brought up to the surface where he would be subjected to experimentation, escape to wreak havoc and be recaptured, over and over, until he vanished from the scene altogether --- well, he’s baaaaaaaaaack. Messrs. Farley, Flemming and O’Keefe aim for a sort of cautionary parody, a mixture of sensationalism and satire, but they soon lose their bite --- their Batboy dwindles down to yet another misunderstood misfit; a Beautiful Soul who just happens to drink blood, and won’t we please take him to our hearts?

BATBOY is not a bad musical --- it’s only one more bitter apple from the Sondheim tree, punched up to lure younger audiences into the theatre --- the kind of audience who wouldn’t be caught dead in the boy-girl-moon-June musicals of old. A harsh, metallic sound (with or without over-amplification); “searching”, introspective lyrics that take precedence over tunes and dances; almost every number, a loud, in-your-face one; little or no comedy; and anthems, numerous anthems where a singer must plant his/her feet on the ground and pull up sustained high notes from the pit of his/her gut --- they’re all there in BATBOY, as they were in many a musical of the past decade (with more waiting in the wings, no doubt). Acid test: after attending BATBOY, would you want to purchase the original cast recording? I didn’t --- you see, I’ve heard it all before.

This slap is in no way a reflection on the heroic efforts of Paul Daigneault (director) David Connolly (choreographer) and their amazing SpeakEasy cast; far, far from it (SpeakEasy did that excellent production of THE WILD PARTY earlier this year, remember?). Even if you come out hating BATBOY, you’ll admit you were impressed by these ten gifted actors/singers who have the stamina and, especially, the steel in their voices to emerge intact from this field mine of a score --- today’s musicals now require today’s performers to have the lungs of an opera singer, the verbal dexterity of a jazz musician and the body of a decathlon athlete --- and today’s audiences aren’t applauding because these performers make it all look so easy; they’re applauding because the shows’ creators never let them forget what an ordeal they’re putting their performers through. (Imagine Fred Astaire, his tuxedo damp with sweat, panting for breath in Ginger Roger’s face as they dance along the canals of Venice….)

The role of Batboy is not my idea of a Star-making role, but it does allow Miguel Cervantes to make one hell of a good impression: this young man with the (fake) Spock ears displays amazing agility and truly does fly through the air with the greatest of ease, and he could rouse the dead with his stentorian singing --- his Batboy is far more arresting, of course, in his wild state than when civilized (he soon sports a British accent à la ‘enry ‘iggins). The younger members of the audience took Batboy to their hearts --- well, at least they cheered Mr. Cervantes after each of his numbers (or was it just a rock concert reflex?) We greybeards, on the other hand, may prefer to let Batboy remain an exotic on display: different, all right, but not something we’d want to take home with us (just as our own elders once viewed hippies with similar distaste).

Mr. Daigneault couldn’t have found three better performers to portray the Palmer family: the small-town vet, his wife and his daughter who take in Batboy with mixed results. Iconographically, they are instantly recognizable: Michael Mendiola’s Thomas is tall, worn and taciturn; Kerry Dowling’s Meredith is plump, warm and maternal; and Sara Chase’s Kelly, both perky and rebellious, comes wonderfully close to being the Girl Next Door --- and a virgin to boot (what an enchanting Luisa in THE FANTASTICKS Ms. Chase would make!). Ms. Dowling shares the show’s few delightful (and touching) moments with Mr. Cervantes as the first person in Batboy’s life who sees something worth cultivating and wins him over with love and trust, though the revelations behind her motives come cannonballing out of left field --- I suspect not even the Messrs. Farley and Flemming could see them coming. Among the other members of the ensemble, each of them, superb in their lightning changes of voice and costume, I would like to single out Mary Callanan, who stops the show with her lusty portrayal of the Rev. Hightower, a comic creation who has strayed in from a happier --- and healthier --- musical.

Aside from supplying a never-fail kick line (using the bars of a cage as canes --- KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN!!!), Mr. Connolly hasn’t much to work with in terms of actual choreography --- BATBOY being one of the tuneless, danceless kind of musical --- but between him and Mr. Daigneault, I was given my Christmas present early this year: this production certainly MOVES! The action flows so smoothly without any lags during blackouts --- and there are quite a few (have Messrs. Daigneault or Connolly ever thought of taking on the Bard?). Two minor nitpicks: a friend told me that in the original New York production, the love that Kelly comes to feel for Batboy was planted early on in the performance; here, Ms. Chase suddenly announces her love to Ms. Dowling in an “all the kids are doing it!” delivery; and until I checked the program afterwards and realized the cross-dressing men were supposed to be playing women, I thought this little West Virginian town was filled with campy queens which I thought a bit odd, considering the town is after Batboy’s blood because he’s different --- just as much as he is after theirs.

If you’re not quite certain if you wish to attend BATBOY: THE MUSICAL, here’s a little doodle I did up just for YOU! If you read the following in all seriousness and it moves you, enriches you and leaves you wanting more, then BATBOY: THE MUSICAL is definitely what you’ve been waiting for --- that is, under the next bitter apple falls off the branch.

GATOR! THE MUSICAL!
By Carl A. Rossi

[SCENE: New York City. A grim sky overhead. A street filled with manhole covers, below. Enter an angry CHORUS.]

CHORUS:
There are gators at the bottom of our sewers
Every day we all fall prey unto those chewers
It’s a dog-eat-doggie world, we know
But to hear that munching down below!

We’ll not stand for it! (We’ll not stand for it!)
No, we’ll not stand for it!
WE’LL NOT STAND FOR IT!

Kill those gators
Let us go down in the sewers and we’ll
Kill those gators

And when they’ll all be gone
New Yorkers shall go on
Free to walk the streets again just as we please

Let’s start killing all those gators below
Let us save New York, our great New York
We’ll force them to their knees!

[A manhole cover opens and a GATOR pops out. The CHORUS shrinks from him.]

GATOR:
Why does everybody hate me?
How would I feel if YOU ate ME?
Would you strip me of my hide
But ignore the heart inside?
Why does everybody hate me?

Can I help it if I have these teeth?
Just ignore ‘em and you’ll see beneath
How I yearn to escape this infernal hole
I have a soul! A soul!
A SOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUL!!!

How I long to stroll down Broadway
How I long for Central Park
Can I never know the sun?
Will I only know the dark?

I would gladly ride the subways
And inflation would be fun
Will I only know the dark?
Can I never know the sun?
The sun?
THE SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN!

Take my hand --- my claw, if you will
I love you all, though it’s you I kill
Can’t I have my moment?
Let me have my moment!
Can’t I have my moment?
Let me have my moment!
Yes! Let me have my moment!
My moment! Yes! My moment!
Let me have my moment
In! The! SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN!

[Tableau. Applause.]

Emoting makes me hungry, so I entreat you:
Kind New Yorkers, may I eat you?

CHORUS:
Yes! Yes! For now we love you, too
We never knew before the social good you do

[with great solemnity to the audience:]

New York is now too crowded (crowded)
Pollution chokes our skies (our skies)
Drugs and crime are rampant (rampant)
He’s opened up our eyes

We’ve reaped what we have sown here (sown here)
And must be punished for our sins (our sins)
Once the old world has been ended (ended)
Another paradise begins

And so (and so)
We’ll GO (We’ll GO)

[The music swells. Steam billows out of the manhole covers. Each member of the CHORUS crosses to stand on one. In true anthem style:]

Feed our gators
Let us go down in the sewers and we’ll
Feed our gators

And though mankind will be gone
Our gators will live on
Let us give them all their moment in the sun

And by keeping all our gators alive
We will save New York, our great New York!
Our great New York will thrive!

[The CHORUS descends below on their manhole covers, vanishing into the steam.]

Thrive!
Yes, THRIVE!
Our! Great! New! York! Will! THRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!

[Music up. The GATOR pops back down into his hole, then pops up again with an unfurled flag. He sets it up, then pops down again, closing his lid behind him. A wind unfurls the flag, which reads: “I 8 NY”]

[CURTAIN]

"Batboy: The Musical" (4-26 October)
SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY
The Boston Center for the Arts
539 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 426-2787

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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