Regional theatre review: Bat Out of Hell, The Musical

Date Posted: 16/03/2017

Sarah Holt explains why you don’t have to be a Meatloaf fan to enjoy Bat Out of Hell, The Musical.

If you’re not a Meatloaf fan you might wonder why they’d make a musical out of the rock legend’s songs.

By the time you leave the theatre after watching Bat Out of Hell, you’ll wish they’d done it sooner.

Set in a post-apocalyptic New York, the show follows the story of star crossed lovers Strat and Raven. Strat is the leader of a group of human ‘mutants’, who live rough on the streets of the city, and will never age beyond 18.

Raven is the daughter of the city’s rich and over-protective law-enforcer, Falco, whose family have never knowingly let her venture outside Falco Towers; their luxurious and super secure skyscraper home that overlooks the chaotic slums where Strat and his friends live.

Through a number of occasions when Raven has crept out of her room to explore the city, she and Strat have forged a relationship. Falco is intent on preventing it. 

The first impressive thing about this production is the set. The design makes the stage of Manchester’s Opera House look cavernous. At the opening of Act One, Ground Zero-type girders reach out at the audience from the stage, static fizzes on broken television screens, and a Harley – with its bull horn handle bars – waits for its rider in the centre of the scene.

Pictured: Some of the cast of Bat Out of Hell, The Musical. (Photo credit: Specular).

The way Falco Towers has been designed, meanwhile, makes it look like there really is a skyscraper sprouting out of the stage. You’d be forgiven for thinking some sort of seismic activity had shifted the foundations of Manchester’s Hilton a few hundred metres right into the middle of the stage.

And it only gets better. As the show goes on, a table converts into a Cadillac. Said Cadillac is sucked into a sinkhole in the stage floor, and a water-filled sewer swallows a man whole – sucking him in like a noodle – only to spit him out again in a different outfit a few seconds later.  

If the actors in the show weren’t talented enough, the technical effects might outshine them. But this cast has calibre. The producers and directors have not fallen into the regional theatre trap of hiring a celebrity to lead the cast. Everyone involved in this production has been recruited for merit rather than fame.

The singers’ voices sounded like they’d been auto-tuned the moment they came out of their mouths. Christina Bennington (Raven) gives a flawless performance of Heaven Can Wait, while Danielle Steer’s syrupy soulful voice grabs you by the jugular during numbers like Two Out of Three Aint Bad.

The dancers are something to write home about too. The choreography is a swag bag of styles; mixing everything from break dance and ballet to lindy hop. Routines involving the full cast made the entire auditorium quake.  

Another thing that’s refreshing about this show is the fact that it’s not been sugar coated. Despite having a Shakespearean-style love story at its heart, the musical should have some sort of PG rating. There are sex scenes, a lynching, electrocutions, and a motorcycle accident that leads to a pretty life-like wound.

Danielle Steers (front, centre) as Zahara in BAT OUT OF HELL - THE MUSICAL, credit Specular M

Pictured: Danielle Steers (front, centre) as Zahara. (Photo credit: Specular).

The producers must have given the theatre’s health and safety team a few sleepless nights, too, because this show features pyrotechnics, flames, strobes, and almost as many loud bands as Hogmanay.

In terms of the plotline, the story that unfolds between Strat and Raven is entertaining. However, it’s the relationship that plays out between Raven’s parents Falco and Sloane that’s even more compelling. It’s more show than tell. The What Part of My Body Hurts the Most duet between Rob Fowler (Falco) and Sharon Sexton (Sloane) left me winded.

As the production edged closer to its finale the audience were having more and more of a concert-style reaction to the musical numbers. Whistles and drum-like applause came after I’d Do Anything for Love and It’s All Coming Back to Me Now. By the end of the show, every single audience member was out of their seat. The standing ovation was like nothing I’ve seen in a theatre before. It was more like something from the O2.

And not just because the theatre was filled with Meatloaf fans. The combination of power songs, visceral storylines, and striking visual effects means that this is a musical anyone can enjoy. And, until the equivalent opens in London in the summer, it’s well worth making the trip up north for.

Bat Out of Hell, The Musical is showing at Manchester Opera House until the end of April when it will transfer to the West End. For more information visit www.batoutofhellmusical.com.

Lead image: Christina Bennington as Raven & Andrew Polec as Strat in Bat Out of Hell, The Musical. (Photo credit: Specular).

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