Saturday, June 11, 2011

Putting the bite in Bat Boy

Metro Stage Company can't seem to catch a break publicity-wise - they still haven't garnered any interest from the print press (I guess because their productions are usually low-tech); and even I often only catch them at the tail-end of their runs (as I am this time; sorry!). Still, Metro presses on, in the "Cambridge Fringe" centered around Central Square's YMCA, powered by a love for musical theatre and an impressive amount of skill at presenting it (and we all know those two don't always go together!).

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.
Alas, as you can probably tell, Bat Boy didn't make me feel very tolerant. But I was happy nevertheless to spend time with this great cast, which acted as well as it sang, and where you might find several future local stars, particularly Nick Sulfaro (who made a wittily gonzo Bat Boy), the lovely Aubin Wise (a kind of Audra-McDonald-in-waiting), and the sweet-faced (and voiced) Melody Madarasz - all of whom, I imagine, could soon garner IRNE nominations (whether or not I'm on that committee).  There were even more amusing turns from Nathanael Shea, Michael Ryan Buckley, Anthony Alfaro, and the cross-dressing James Tallach (who brought memorable fire to two trashy ladies who were not to be trifled with).  But come to think of it, there wasn't a weak link in this cast, which ran the East-Village-hillbilly gauntlet with gusto.  So I'll go ahead and list everybody: kudos to Henry McEnerny, Emma Boroson, Tom Hamlett, Sarajane Mullins, Rebekah Hardeson, Carly Kastel, and Gary Ryan, too.

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.


  1. "No accidentals?" So you're saying the score is written entirely in the key of C major?

    Incorrect. Maybe you have a hyper-acute sense of Perfect Pitch, but most of the songs in BAT BOY actually change key about every 4 or 5 measures. It's kind of ridiculous. It might SOUND like an atonal mess to you, but it's one of the most blisteringly complicated scores I've ever seen.

    Do some research before you criticize something just by throwing around terms that you don't understand.

  2. Uh no, Thom, lacking accidentals does not mean a score is necessarily written in the key of C major . . . I'm a little surprised I'd have to explain that to a musician - but then I've got another piece of news for you: you can download most of the score of "Bat Boy" for free, which I did before I wrote that review, so it's useless trying to bullshit me. Some numbers shift from one key to another when they shift from one THEME to another - but the themes themselves do not jump around in key signature, as you seem to be implying. And, as I guessed, there are very few accidentals - indeed, for a couple of themes it looks like there are none (which could explain how the number could jump in key signature but still be harmonically dull). So nice try, but no cigar. Just for the record, I don't have perfect pitch, but I have good relative pitch, and I can certainly tell when a score is a piece of shit. Oh - and where did I say it was "atonal"? I said it was TOO tonal - but then you seem confused about a lot of things, Thom, among them that "Bat Boy" is "one of the most blisteringly complicated scores" you've ever seen. If that's the case, you need to get out more. And you need to stop sabotaging your theatre company's relationship with one of the few reviewers who will write about them.