Indeed, in their latest, Bat Boy (which closes tonight) their greatest strength is very much in evidence - these folks can put together a singing cast better than anybody in town. In fact, to be honest, there are several local stars who appear regularly at our mid-sized theatres who couldn't cut the vocal mustard at scrappy little Metro Stage. I've already seen expertly-sung versions of Working, Sweeney Todd, and A Little Night Music there, and Bat Boy hews to that same high standard (and the songs are powered by a punchy, if slightly too loud, rock quartet).
Still, it must also be said these great singers can't quite hide the fact that the score of Bat Boy - well, if it doesn't quite suck, it sometimes bites; I think half the songs were in the same key, and in some of them I'm not sure I heard a single accidental. At least songwriter Laurence O'Keefe distracts us from this monotony with some witty wordplay, and by lurching at will from one musical style to another (it's okay, the plot lurches from one twist to another, too). The idea seems to be that if you don't like bad rock, then maybe you'll like bad country, or bad gospel.
Oh, well. Despite its melodic poverty, the score is still challenging to sing (it's not low on high notes), and every now and then (as in the gospel number) O'Keefe does get a simple, frisky tune going. And then to be fair, the score is supposed to be 'so bad it's good,' in the manner of all those gay-pop pastiches that the Off-Broadway factory has been pumping out for years. Indeed, Bat Boy (which premiered in 1997) may count as an avatar of this alternative fodder. It's sourced in low pop culture (the Weekly World News headline that inspired it is above), and mixes a heavy-handed AIDS allegory with shots of sex-horror camp in the manner of Charles Busch (or do I mean Ludlam?), topped off with an affectionate parody of the white-trash culture half the East Village fled to New York to escape. I suppose I should also mention the quick nods to musicals like My Fair Lady and Hair, along with the capping earnest plea for tolerance - just like the kind Rodgers and Hammerstein used to make (only with incomparably better tunes).
|The current production's publicity.|
Meanwhile director M. Bevin O'Gara, of whom I'm generally a fan, staged the wild goings-on with wit and imagination, but I'm not sure she brought quite the right snarky meta-tone to the show. Only po-faced irony telegraphed to the audience can glue the silly shards of Bat Boy together, but not everybody in the cast had gotten that memo (Wise and Shea in particular groped at the right note to strike as their scenes grew ever more bizarre). In the end, I think there's a very low ceiling on how high Bat Boy can fly; but I admit this production flapped about entertainingly, and offered more proof (if any was needed) that Metro Stage deserves a higher profile in our local theatre scene.