Sweet wounded Jesus! A fanged creature has been spotted roaming East street in Annapolis and shocking the patrons of the Colonial Players! Terrorized by the prospect that a freak runs among them, the board, the players themselves, and this reviewer, are asking you to gather up as many people as you can and rush down to Colonial Players and witness the true story of how it all happened: Bat Boy: The Musical. With Music and Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, this is one rock and roll musical you won’t want to miss. Directed by Beverly Hill van Joolen with Musical Direction by David Merrill, this edgy musical is a change of pace from the normal musicals that play the boards at CP, but embrace it, because Sweet Wounded Jesus— the Bat Boy has much to teach us all!
Working with a brand new technology to CP, Lighting Designer Frank Florentine is making full use of the new moving colored lights for this upbeat pumping show. Keith Norris, works with fog effects and all the new colors to create the purple and blue creepy mists of the Bat Boy’s cave, while alternatively highlighting the tent revival scene with insanely bright flashes of light as if the sweet lord Jesus were shocking his way through the circuitry. Florentine might even get a little carried away with the fabulous new lights, going so far as to blink some of the crazy colors all through the scene changes.
Set and Floor Designer Terry Averill has a creative time with fun new things in the space; but all for the cause of making this musical quite epic. Gauzy streams of glittery material are draped from the ceiling in jagged formations to create the stalactite look inside the bat cave; a thrilling effect is achieved when the lights from Florentine’s design mingles with the fogs and bounces off these shimmering sheets of fabric. The floor, at first glance, looks like the rocky side of the mountain where the show takes place, but upon closer inspection could be viewed as all the blood spilled in this production, now dried into its place as the story is a retelling of events that have already occurred. Between the cage and the layout of the cave itself, Averill does a spectacular job staging this musical in the round.
Makeup Designer Eddie Hall inspires a truly grotesque and yet tenderly misunderstood creature with his work for the Bat Boy. Aided in authenticity by Kathryn Ehmann & Associates (who created and fitted unique cosmetic dental fangs for Bat Boy), Hall tints the skin of the creature into a pallid gray complexion making him look truly inhuman. The way his ears blend seamlessly into his head and the gray skin effect can be seen all over every bit of exposed skin is a mark of professionalism and enhances the experience of this production tenfold. Presumably responsible for the copious use of blood in the production, Hall ensures that it too carries with it a look of genuine sanguine, looking frightening but just the slightest bit campy so as not to truly terrify anyone.
While rock-style musicals aren’t known for their classical musical theatre dance routines, Choreographer Jamie Erin Miller brings a touch of the traditional moves in homage to the big razzle-dazzle numbers of Broadway to this production. “Show You a Thing or Two” results in an enormous kick-line and a world of signature dance moves for Bat Boy, while “A Joyful Noise” features more circular choreography, showcasing Miller’s versatility. There’s even some boot-scootin’ country moves for “Another Dead Cow,” covering a myriad of moves for the production on the whole.
There are minor imperfections in the production that will improve with time; mainly the longer scene changes in the first act of the show where furnishings are being swapped out from the Parker residence to the slaughter house and back. The ensemble also wavers in their consistency with tonal correctness and vocal strength, but these occurrences are only sprinkled throughout. Mainly during “Another Dead Cow,” where the ensemble struggles to articulate and emphasize their solo lines, and during “More Blood/Kill the Bat Boy,” where the harmonies do not blend as smoothly as they could.
Performances on the whole from the supporting characters are impressive. While not always the strongest of singers, what they lack in vocal ability they more than enthusiastically make up for with their vibrant acting skills. Mayor Maggie (Debbie Barber-Eaton) masters her high-strung attitude and aligns her thick southern accent with her outrageous outfit. Eaton is a comical character that adds a touch of class and sass to the average town-folk in the play. And while she doesn’t have the sassy edge that Mayor Maggie does, Reverend Hightower (Lynn Garretson) manages to get the townspeople just as excited with her arrival. Blasting out the low notes in “A Joyful Noise” her lower range is a force to be reckoned with.
Another noteworthy performance for her extreme characterization is Alicia Sweeney as Mrs. Taylor. With a pronounced twang in her speech, and a spitfire attitude toward the Sheriff (Scott Nichols), Sweeney’s performance is a hoot. And her purposefully ear-splitting solo “Mrs. Taylor’s Lullaby” is an absolute scream. Her easily riled son, Rick (Nathan Bowen) is just as heightened a caricature as she is. Bowen digs into the gritty depth of his hillbilly character, bringing a fierce and vengeful anger with him when bad things happen to members of his family. Bowen also delivers an exceptional rendition of the West Virginian Mountainside accent, though his rapping skills could use a little work for “Whatcha Wanna Do?”
Vocally pristine, John Halmi appears twice in the ensemble, first as Bud with the blast of powerful sound to start off the opening number, “Hold Me, Bat Boy,” and later as the enchanting and lyrical Pan during “Children, Children.” Halmi’s soothing voice is clear and strong; carrying the delicate melody, disturbingly juxtaposed with intense sexual encounters, for his solo as the mythical master of the cave.
The Parker Family is hardly the epitome of quaint, though from the outside looking in they are picture perfect. Shelly (Paige Miller) is naïve but sensitive; sweetness balanced with a hint of bratty. Her stunning duet with Bat Boy, “Inside Your Heart” is an excellent example of her vocal prowess, though other songs tend to leave her washed away by the music. Mamma Meredith (Wendy Baird) has an equally delicate sound, and her dulcet tones echo with lovely sentiment in “A Home For You” and “Dance with Me, Darling.” Her ability to patter fluently through the opening segments of “Show You a Thing or Two,” is impressive. But it’s “Three Bedroom House” that brings the perfect blend of her singing ability and comic delivery to the forefront of her performance.
Doc Parker (Chris Patton) is not a pleasant character in the least. Patton explores the obsessive and maddening characteristics of the doctor with vigor. His singing voice often gets lost due to its quiet nature, but he’s a fright to behold during numbers like “Parker’s Epiphany.” His solo segment in “More Blood/Kill the Bat Boy” is disturbing and perfectly fitting for this warped and twisted character.
Ron Giddings (Edgar/Bat Boy), in the title role, gives a stellar performance throughout the production. Between the mastery of his physical expression during his uncivilized period— hopping about in a hunched state, fingers perpetually curled like claws, head always tilting to the side in curiosity— to the evolution his character undergoes to become a well-articulated and sophisticated member of society, Giddings is sensational. The dedication and commitment to the character choices alone are astonishing, not to mention the tremendous vocal talent Giddings possess; not only being able to belt out songs with exceptional clarity, but being able to do so while hanging upside down! “Let Me Walk Among You” is a solo performed with a raw vulnerability; each note and word graced with a deep expressive section of his soul. Somewhere between “Apology to a Cow” and “I Imagine You’re Upset” comes an explosive dynamic shift in his characterization; a stunning portrayal of a character’s growth turned dark with hate and remorse. Giddings is a performing phenomenon as Bat Boy; a true wonder.
Colonial Players’ Bat Boy: The Musical is one edgy musical that you won’t want to miss!
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.