And as long as it doesn’t take itself too seriously, “Bat Boy” is frothy good fun with a healthy dose of ominous menace mixed in. You know that from the time he’s discovered by some spelunking stoners deep within a West Virginia cave, Bat Boy will face some challenges, primarily because of his diet (blood and only blood). His subsequent adoption by the local veterinarian’s wife, Meredith Parker (Susan Sanford), a soft-hearted mom who names him Edgar, seems to point toward a hopeful future. But alas, our pointy-eared hero has been saved from his cold cave only to be thrown into a bubbling cauldron of twisted family dynamics and backward local politics.
After Edgar becomes civilized, he yearns for normalcy, pleading with the local townspeople for acceptance in the rousing second-act starter, “A Joyful Noise.” In scenes like these, songwriter Laurence O’Keefe invokes classic musicals with his dramatic tunes while undercutting their earnestness with his off-kilter lyrics. In an anxious melody, Edgar cries: “Let me file your taxes” and “Let me join your carpools.”
However, after this towering moment, the rest of “Bat Boy’s” second act meanders indistinctly. Emma Orelove is charming as Shelley, Meredith’s daughter and Edgar’s love interest, but the musical number that interrupts the consummation of their love feels like filler. By the time a load of 11th-hour exposition has been slogged through, much of the giddy fun of the show has drained away.
If director David Denson had punched up the ending to match the gusto of the first act, he would have a clear winner on his hands. He stages the show simply but effectively, particularly given the constraints of the Firehouse stage. He’s enlisted an able rock quartet anchored by a solid rhythm section to pound out the tunes. Most of his major players have sufficient vocal chops. Only Steve Perigard as the villainous veterinarian Dr. Parker seemed to have trouble projecting during the preview performance I attended.
In a show that cries out for some quirky secondary characters, the supporting cast is disappointingly bland, though young Haley Fentriss shows some spunk. With its melodramatic ending, “Bat Boy” strives for something like Shakespearean tragedy, when something wacky, dark and David Lynchian would have been preferable.
The show’s final refrain urges, “Don’t deny your beast inside.” There’s a mischievous beast at the heart of “Bat Boy: The Musical.” It’s a shame he’s so subdued by the show’s end. S
“Bat Boy: The Musical” is playing at Firehouse Theatre Project, 1609 W. Broad St., through Sept. 28. Tickets cost $20. Call 355-2001.
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