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Awkward musical 'Bat Boy' saved by stars
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Arizona Repertory Theatre

Awkward musical 'Bat Boy' saved by stars

Boffo performances tip balance from weird to at least strangely interesting

  • Meredith (Cait Kiley) reads a children's book to Edgar (Michael Schauble) in Arizona Repertory Theatre's 'Bat Boy: The Musical.'
    Patrick McArdle/UA NewsMeredith (Cait Kiley) reads a children's book to Edgar (Michael Schauble) in Arizona Repertory Theatre's 'Bat Boy: The Musical.'

When the dry-ice fog starts rolling into the theatre, a show titled “Bat Boy: The Musical” should be cautionary enough. This weird work is a comedy mash-up/homage encompassing sci-fi horror films, Broadway musicals, rural rednecks and Greek mythology.

Again closing out the University of Arizona student theatre season with a big musical, “Bat Boy” is both awkward and exuberant. In the end, boffo performances tip the balance from totally weird to, well, at least strangely interesting. Director and faculty member Rob Gretta continues to push the musical theatre program at UA towards excellence with the choice and execution of this relatively unfamiliar work.

The genesis for “Bat Boy: The Musical” was the supermarket tabloid press, specifically Weekly World News, which covered paranormal reality, Elvis sightings and Bat Boy, its most popular cover story. Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming (story and book) and Laurence O’Keefe (music) conjure a genetically mixed mutant somehow more vampire than chiropteran. Echoes of Greek myths and tragedies reverberate throughout.

The script for “Bat Boy: The Musical” is an uneven amalgam of taboo and camp, with characters who both embrace and subvert stereotypes. A synopsis falls short of the experience, especially with a plot more convoluted than a bucket of worms.

Long story, short: Bat Boy, discovered underground, is brought to civilization, such as it is, in the ironically named Hope Falls, West Virginia. There he tries to fit in, and we all know how well that’s going to work out. By the final curtain, we’ve got murder, incest, bestiality, and maybe even incestuous bestiality, if that’s even possible, as well as some cute singing and dancing.

The best thing about this show is junior Michael Schauble in the title role, followed by senior Cait Kiley as Merdith Parker, wife of the veterinarian who takes Bat Boy in. She teaches him to speak and trains him socially. She is also ... well, it’s complicated.

Bat Boy, now rechristened Edgar, wants nothing more than a normal life, despite a pesky reliance on blood as his only sustenance. He falls in love with the Parker daughter, Shelly, played by junior Brenna Wagner, and then things start to get really freaky. In a fantasy sequence, the Greek god Pan appears and leads a lewd dance involving stuffed animals – and that’s not even the freaky part.

When Pan appears, he comes up through a trap door, all the more surprising since the stage in the UA’s Tornabene Theatre in this case is flush with the floor. The Tornabene Theatre is an excellent non-traditional performance space with lots of configuration options. In this instance, the stage is flat and the audience seating is on risers extending around the flanks of the stage.

Unfortunately, the room undermines this production on sound. Audio problems diminished the second-night performance. Some – mics cutting out, uneven volume levels – are fixable. Two problems, however, appear structural.

First, the speaker setup for vocals sent the sound downward from the ceiling, leading to the odd effect of having someone sing in front of you, but the sound mostly coming from 30 feet above them. The millisecond delay for the performers also may have contributed to some imprecise ensemble singing, which muddied the crispness and rendered some lyrics incomprehensible.

The second structural problem involved the five-piece rock band, who did a great job as far as performance. However, they are set up high on a balcony, slightly behind the audience. The result was like early simulated-stereo records, where vocals came out of one speaker and the instruments out of the other, which works okay if you get back far enough for the sounds to blend. Sadly, the Tornabene Theatre is not that big.

The songs for “Bat Boy” are rock-centric Broadway tunes. The titles hint at the quirky lyrics and rural setting: “Another Dead Cow,” “Christian Charity,” “Three Bedroom House.” Not surprisingly, the opening number, “Hold Me, Bat Boy,” is the most memorable.

Michael Schauble gave an athletic, highly disciplined portrayal as Bat Boy, totally tuned in and committed. In his initial feral state, he was pre-verbal and physically aggressive, working his cage like a trapeze. With education, he is transformed into an odd English-accented gentleman, a cross between Nosferatu and Pee Wee Herman. Finally, he embraced the character’s doomed emotional quest for happiness with absolutely the wrong girl. Schauble’s charismatic otherworldly presence as Dickon in the ART production of “The Secret Garden” last fall was also a standout. His performance alone is worth the effort to see “Bat Boy.”

Cait Kiley gave a great performance in the more mundane role as Meredith Parker. Last year she nearly stole the show as the Baker’s Wife in ART’s “Into the Woods.” She has less opportunity to shine in this more docile role, but still manages to keep tensions high with her unusually protective attitude towards the Bat Boy. She then takes it up a notch as all is revealed in the final scenes.

Jacklyn Rae Dellatorri is a senior and also a veteran of the ART productions of “Into the Woods” and “The Secret Garden.” She brought extra energy to her gender-bender portrayal of itinerant preacher and Elvis wannabe Rev. Billy Hightower. She also hopped seamlessly into the supporting role of Mrs. Taylor, whose family is wiped out over the course of the play.

Other notables: senior Max Nussbaum as the humane Sheriff Reynolds; sophomore Ryan Kleinman as Dr. Thomas Parker, the nefarious veterinarian; senior Patrick Spencer as both hick Rick Taylor and hilariously cross-dressed as Lorraine, a chain-smoking, pregnant hillbilly. Sophomore Cooper Hallstrom contributed an enchanting pagan interlude as Pan.

Gretta sets a high standard that his students and fellow faculty and they rise to the occasion, though hampered by sound issues and working a script that will offend some and delight others. “Bat Boy: The Musical” is not your typical musical, but overall it gets professional attention by the UA team.

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If you go

  • What: “Bat Boy: The Musical” presented by the Arizona Repertory Theatre
  • When: Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., matinees Saturday, April 21, and Sundays, through April 29.
  • Where: Tornabene Theatre, 1031 N. Olive Ave. (UA campus, southeast corner of Park Ave. and Speedway Blvd.)
  • Tickets: $31 reserved seats, $21 with student ID; discounts also available for seniors and military. UA Fine Arts Box Office, 621-1162 and online at arizona.tix.com.

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