Bat Boy The Musical Theatre Review - A Night at The Warner Grand Theatre

With the efficacy of an un-oiled, tumultuous machine, The Relevant Stage  Theatre Company presents Bat Boy The Musical at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro.  San Pedro is almost worth the admirable drive from Central Los Angeles to see the imperious beauty of the Warner Grand Theatre and to experience the enticing coffee and atmosphere of the Sacred Grounds Coffee Shop next door.  The value in the drive to see this particular production, however, is debatable.  

Bat Boy The Musical, independent of this production, is an intriguing piece of musical theatre.   It seems a true candidate for cult followings comparable to that of musicals like Rocky Horror Picture Show, Sweeney Todd or The Who’s Tommy; however, I know very few people who recognize this particular musical by name.   

Created in 1997 with a Los Angeles premiere, the story allegedly revolves around an actual 1992 Weekly World News article about a half-bat/half-boy found living in a cage.  By my experience, there were probably at least a dozen of those articles in the year 1992 by itself let alone the historic compilation of all similar fabrications.  Nevertheless, the story begins with three siblings apparently spelunking (yes, spelunking) in a local cave.  Naturally, they come across our hero, Bat Boy, ( Jeff Leatherwood) and in a failed effort to feed him Fritos, one of the siblings Ruthie ( Danielle Adams) is bitten.  Bat Boy is consequently captured and brought to the home of Dr. Parker ( Jaycob Hunter), the town veterinarian, under the assumption that he will put him to sleep.  With Dr. Parker conveniently away on a hunting trip, Bat Boy is left in the care of Dr. Parker’s wife Meredith ( Megan Grey Gobel) and their daughter Shelley ( Sydney Weir).  In the short time that Dr. Parker is away, Meredith becomes enamored by the creature and is able to persuade Dr. Parker to spare his life when he returns from his hunting trip.  Meredith proceeds to pull an Eliza Doolittle on the half-bat, half-boy and he emerges as a cultured, British (yes, British) aristocrat, perfectly fit for society.  Of course the town is still vexed by the biting of Ruthie and looking for someone to blame for the torrent cow famine that has raped them of their much-needed meat; understandably they are unready to accept Bat Boy.  Combine this with Dr. Parker’s jealousy over Meredith’s love for her newly-named Edgar (the cultured Bat Boy), and the town becomes a disaster playground of misguided anger.  The not-so-elusive twist at the end will leave you either thrilled or laughing along in the somewhat tongue-and-cheek style of it all.

Sydney Weir as Shelley Parker and Jeff Leatherwood as Bat Boy in "Bat Boy The Musical"

All the elements were in place for a successful production of this intriguingly bizarre piece.   There could be almost no better choice a venue than the Warner Grand Theatre.  Owned by the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission, there is no dearth of personality in this frail and unkempt anachronism.  Even an intermission trip to the bathroom downstairs is somewhat spooky as you pass deteriorating walls and enter  the antediluvian facilities; it’s all perfectly exciting.  Furthermore, the Bat Boy t-shirts and the free vampire fangs in the lobby are excellent odes to the uniqueness of the show.  

However, all of these pieces seem to fail in light of the performance.  First and foremost the technical aspects of the show simply make it impossible to lose oneself to the story.  The wireless microphones were wildly unpredictable and the poor actors had a better chance of winning the lottery than entering with a working microphone.  On top of that, the mics picked up on the sound of breathing more than the act of singing.  Set shifts were dangerously under-rehearsed.  I clenched my jaw with each blackout as people bumped into one another and at one point the sound of glass breaking slowed a set shift to an insipid eternity.  The orchestra consisted of a piano and drums resulting in a highly anticlimactic delivery of some potentially catchy songs.  And even the main curtain couldn’t open or close without its own one act play. 

Sydney Weir and Jeff Leatherwood in "Bat Boy The Musical"

In addition to the lugubrious music accompanying the songs, many of the dance numbers were hyper-choreographed beyond the capacity or talents of the performers.  The whole experience was slightly reminiscent of a middle school recital where you feel guilted into supporting the poor children that can’t keep up.   

Lastly, the performance was thwarted by a sea of unseasoned performers.  Fortunately the highlight was, in fact, Bat Boy.  Jeff Leatherwood was a much-needed sense of stability in an otherwise shaky piece.  Larry Wiering also stood out in the Act II opening gospel number A Joyful Noise and in his performance as the garrulous and conspiratorial Mrs. Taylor.  

Should you wish to suspend your criticism and forgive the sophomoric production values, check out The Relevant Stage’s production of Bat Boy The Musical at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro.  As unrealized as it may be, there certainly is potential somewhere in this modest production.  

Bat Boy The Musical opened Thursday, October 9, 2008 and runs through Sunday, October 19 2008 at:

Warner Grand Theatre
478 W. 6th Street
San Pedro, CA 90731

Thursday - Saturday @ 8pm, Sundays @ 2:30pm

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