Jim Steinman's Bat Out Of Hell musical: is it any good?
As Bat Out Of Hell roars onto the London stage like a bat out of hell, Classic Rock heads to the London Coliseum to figure out if 43 million album sales makes for a good musical
"The interesting thing is how people thought this music was too much like the theatre," David Sonenberg told Classic Rock earlier this year. As Jim Steinman's lawyer, he knows a thing or two about Bat Out Of Hell, the multi-million selling rock album that's finally been turned into a rock musical. "It’s been a long time in coming. And it’s really, really right. Its real home is in the theatre."
Is he right? We went along to find out, and here's what we made of it.
It's a proper rock'n'roll show
It's loud. There's pyro. Confetti. Motorbikes glide across the stage. Their engines roar throatily. And the lights are designed by Patrick Woodroffe, who's been in the Rolling Stones camp for over 30 years and lit the opening and closing ceremonies at the London Olympics. It looks amazing.
This is Jim Steinman's attempt to reclaim Bat... as his own
You get the feeling that Jim Steinman lies awake at night cursing the fact that Bat... made Meat Loaf more famous than he, and that a show celebrating his own songwriting genius rather than Meat's interpretation of those songs might just redress the balance. There's even a Bad For Good poster adorning the wall of one of the sets. Having said that, there's a brilliant, subtle tribute to The Big Man towards the climax of I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) that has those in the audience who recognise it spontaneously applauding with delight.
As dystopian scripts go it's hardly George Orwell, but it doesn't matter
It's the year 2100, and all is not well on the post-apocalyptic streets of Obsidian, where The Lost (a gang of teenagers who are forever 18, due to a distressing genetic mutation) are led by a man named after a guitar. The town is run by the tyrannical Falco, whose disaffected wife and unsettled daughter are blah blah blah blah blah and so on. You know the score: Disreputable boy meets untouchable girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl's father doesn't approve, somebody dies (whoops, sorry, spoiler alert), but lessons are learned and redemption is at hand. It's a transparent collection of tropes familiar to fans of West Side Story, Grease, We Will Rock You and more, but the songs are good, and that's why we're here.
It's nice to see young people playing young people
We get so used to films about American teenagers being staffed almost entirely by actors in their late twenties (something brilliantly skewered — and celebrated — in Netflix's Wet Hot American Summer), so it's a pleasure to watch a production celebrating youth where the cast actually appear to be youthful.
Some of the cast are better than others
It's the supporting cast who initially stand out. Andrew Polec, who plays the heroic gang leader Strat, initially comes across as demented rather than charismatic, while Christina Bennington — his love interest, Raven — manages to pull off the unlikely trick of appearing both bland and brattish at the same time. Both turn things around over the course of the production, and both have excellent voices, but it's the undercard that really perform: Rob Fowler's Falco is cruel with a sly chink of vulnerability, Sharon Sexton is the standout performer as his frustrated wife Sloane, and gang member Zahara is played with charismatic sass by Danielle Steers.
There's some serious David Copperfield shit going on
There's a few moments in the set where you think, "Whoah! Where did that come from?" as props appear where they previously weren't, and there's a bit towards the climactic finale that's straight out of a high-end Vegas magic act. The staging is fantastic.
If you love those songs you'll love this show
Apart from the Bat Out Of Hell songs, you get the aforementioned I'd Do Anything For Love, plus Dead Ringer For Love, Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are, Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through and lots of other assorted Steinman. More than anything else, this is a celebration of these songs. It's joyful, playful, surprisingly funny, clever, bombastic, occasionally silly, and visually stunning. And as the audience leaves the auditorium and the main theme blares from the PA, two women refuse to leave, twisting in the aisle like they did last summer, probably.
Someone should write an ELO musical
It would be about Horace, who's a bit of a Wimp. He catches the Last Train To London, where he meets a Sweet Talkin' Woman who actually turns out to be an Evil Woman and Turns him to Stone. After a Showdown at Twilight, Horace escapes in the Confusion, and All Over The World people celebrate. It's a beautiful new day. Hey hey hey. And we'd be amazed if Jeff Lynne wasn't already working on such a thing.
Bat Out Of Hell is at the London Coliseum until August 22. Tickets are on sale now.