Bat Boy: The Musical – Love at First Bite
Bat Boy, The Musical, Photo Courtesy: Stillpointe Theatre
A REVIEW BY RIVER STYX
It’s camp season, and Stillpointe Theatre, one of the most polished non-professional theater companies in Baltimore, is capping its fifth season with a campy, impressive production of cult-favorite Bat Boy: The Musical, inspired by a 1992 Weekly World News tabloid story of a half-bat, half-boy found in a cave.
When I was a kid, I remember seeing the screaming creature with its pointed ears and teeth, right next to the Snickers and Charleston Chews at the grocery store, and not wanting to ever see it in person. Which is kind of how I felt about Bat Boy: The Musical. But, when I saw that Stillpointe was putting it on, and had assembled a stacked cast of some of the most talented actors in town, including a whole lot of BROS, I became more open-minded and accepting of the idea that I might actually like it.
Acceptance is a theme throughout the musical, as are hypocrisy, revenge, fear and love. Hick siblings Rick, Ron and Ruthie Taylor (Matthew Casella, Griffin Standbro and Chelsea Paradiso, respectively) discover the humanoid (Corey Hennessey) while spelunking, and run to the sheriff of their rural West Virginian town after Bat Boy bites a chunk out of Ruthie’s neck. Without knowing what to do with the creature, Sheriff Reynolds (B. Thomas Rinaldi) brings it to the local veterinarian Dr. Parker (Troy Koger). Dr. Parker’s wife Meredith (Nia Simone Smith) bonds with the creature and pleads with her husband not to euthanize him. The townsfolk are wary of the Bat Boy, named Edgar by Meredith, and even blame him for the failure of the town’s bludgeoning cattle industry. With Meredith and her teenage daughter Shelley’s (Meghan Taylor) support and coaching, Edgar quickly becomes civilized, even picking up a British accent from studying BBC tapes. After an eloquent plea for acceptance at a religious revival, the townsfolk are all “OK, you’re cool, Bat Boy” and then Bat Boy attacks Rick, who is still pissed that Bat Boy went all True Blood on his sister, and then the townsfolk are all “not cool, Bat Boy. We’re going to hunt you and kill you like you were a mythical beast-prince with an enchanted teapot maid.” Super jealous Dr. Parker leads the angry mob to take down Bat Boy, who his wife seems to love more than him. This is when Bat Boy writers Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming got drunk and wrote in a lot of “what the eff” moments in the second act. Thankfully, Stillpointe’s production doesn’t include the extended inter-species orgy from earlier versions. I’m not going to talk about any of these twists, because I’m not an asshole. Also, you should just go see Stillpointe’s production. It is fucking great. Let me start with the A+ cast.
From the witty and wonderful characterizations of the ensemble to the physically impressive rigor of the lead, every single performance is stellar. And the voices! Wow. Impressiveness all over the place. Hennessey, a Baltimore Rock Opera Society regular and Stillpointe company member, is cheeky and creepily enthralling as Bat Boy. He plays the protagonist as a textbook psychopath — manipulative, superficially charming and incapable of love. He glibly taunts the frustrated Dr. Parker (played almost sympathetically by talented tenor and Baltimore School for the Arts grad Troy Koger), and patronizes his adoptive mother and sister. This guy is bad news, not just for the physical danger of his taste for human blood and anger management issues, but the emotional danger of his disingenuous charisma. I would love to see Hennessey play a straight-up villain. He would kill it.
Stillpointe’s production is full of enough Woman-Crush-Wednesday fodder to last weeks, starting with Nia Simone Smith as Meredith Parker. Not only does Smith have a glorious voice, she brings a natural nurturing and protective quality to her mother with a secret. Throw in character actors Sarah Gorman, Kathy Carson, Melissa LaMartina and Caitlin Rife, and my #wcw is set well into September. Gorman is downright captivating as Mrs. Taylor, the doomed mother of the three teenager spelunkers. She’s got sassy, strong and raging stage presence for days. Carson, LaMartina and Rife are delightful as townsfolk. Carson as Lorraine, who drinks beer from cozies during town hall meetings and religious revivals, would naturally fit in with the laundry room girls on “Orange is the New Black.” LaMartina earnestly plays the mayor of Hope Falls as a Sarah Palin-lite gal, complete with rectangular-framed glasses and a bouffant. Rife is delightful as nervous stenographer Daisy, who occasionally sneaks a flirt with rancher Bud (the always solid David Brasington). Although the musical traditionally incorporates a whole lot of doubling with 10 actors, Stillpointe has packed 15 actors into this enjoyable production – everyone is good.
So is the music. The last Stillpointe production I saw was another quirky cult favorite musical, Avenue Q, which had sound issues. The band being directly behind the audience and the actors shout-singing on rented mics with an alacrity for feedback created way too much loudness. There is unfortunately some feedback issues with Bat Boy, too, but the sound is much better by the band being behind the set on stage, as well as a less cloying score. Although I probably won’t be bursting into any of the Bat Boy songs at work, the actors sing them well and the band plays them well. The ensemble opening number “Hold Me Bat Boy” is powerful, especially with inventive and effective lighting that incorporates flashlights as microphones. Kudos to lighting designer Janine Vreatt for setting a creepy mood throughout. Other song standouts are Meredith Parker’s “A Home for You” bonding session with Edgar, Dr. Parker’s tender “Dance with me Darling” and a cute rap/hair metal duet between Rick Taylor and Shelley Parker (performed by Baltimore’s Jack Black, Matthew Casella, and Meghan Taylor – both BROS).
Not only are the performances and technical aspects of Bat Boy spot on, but so are the details. One of the things I really like about Stillpointe is the thoughtful touches most often created by Ryan Michael Haase. This guy has such style, shown in this production’s costumes, set and props. I loved the costumes – colorful, flattering and complementary to one another. Crumbled issues of the Weekly World News with Bat Boy on the cover overflow file cabinets flanking the audience and on the steps to the stage. Tin walls and wood beams with strips of cloth hanging are the backdrop for this West Virginia town. The neo-gothic Emanuel Episcopal Church is particularly fitting for Stillpointe’s final production here, supporting the religious undertones in the play. (Stillpointe moves to the University of Baltimore next season.)
Other props go to makeup/hair/gore (Siobhan Beckett, Danielle Robinette, Jen Tydings), puppet masters (Devin Martin and Michael Paradiso), and other props designers, who found a fantastically phallic vase for one comedic cleaning scene (Zoe Kanter, Tydings, Haase). Speaking of Danielle Robinette, who also directed Bat Boy. Girl’s first directorial effort is this? Psha. TALENT. The staging is dynamic and energetic – from a slinking Bat Boy in the opening scene to fun choreography throughout. The entire Bat Boy effort is cohesive.
Bottom line: Stillpointe Theatre’s Bat Boy: The Musical is packed with an uber-talented ensemble of some of the best performers in Baltimore, and has the production value to back them up. This quirky musical could have been a mess in less capable hands, but Stillpointe has magic fingers. Go see this show.
Running at Emmanuel Episcopal Church until August 22nd
Contact Styx at: firstname.lastname@example.org.