BAT OUT OF HELL
The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 4th January, 2022
The mighty Jim Steinman’s contribution to the jukebox musical genre strings together songs made famous by Meat Loaf, Steinman himself, and even Celine Dion. Each number is a mini rock opera in itself, but Steinman’s plot borrows heavily from Romeo & Juliet and also Peter Pan & Wendy, I kid you not. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where chemical warfare has mutated some of the population into eternal 18-year-olds, (The ‘Lost’) who are very much the have-nots in this society, and the haves, represented by bigwig Falco and his family, their building towering over the landscape. Lost boy Strat falls for Falco’s daughter, Raven, and their relationship gives rise to conflict. There’s a nurse character too – Joelle Moses’s Zahara – and there’s also a Tink(erbell) whose jealousy of Strat/Peter and Raven/Wendy’s relationship leads to a betrayal, with Falco/Capulet/Captain Hook bent on destruction of the Lost (Boys). Curiously, Steinman’s song, Lost Boys and Golden Girls is absent from the score…
As leading man Strat, Glenn Adamson is a firecracker of energy with a powerful rock voice. He has a tendency to take his top off, Iggy Pop-style (something which Meat Loaf never did). Also strong is Martha Kirby’s Raven. Her rendition of Heaven Can Wait is superb. Unfortunately, the staging dilutes its impact. Much of the action is performed to camera and projected onto screens built into the set, and so, rather than having Kirby singing directly to the audience, she stands in an interior portion of the set facing away; yes, we can see her clearly on the screen, but the device serves to keep us at a remove from the emotional power of the song.
The live camera feed sometimes lends a rock video aspect to proceedings. At others, it’s a bit like reality TV. Mostly though, it’s intrusive and distracting, an example of the production getting in its own way, which happens now and then.
That apart, there is a lot to enjoy. The singing is top notch from everyone in this exuberant ensemble. Highlights for me include Joelle Moses and James Chisholm’s Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad. Later, their Dead Ringer For Love generates a party atmosphere. Martha Kirby’s It’s All Coming Back To Me Now is impressively emotive. This power ballad becomes a delicate quartet when Adamson joins in, along with Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton as Raven’s parents. Fowler and Sexton deliver the disillusionment and bitterness of the failing marriage of Falco and Sloane. Fowler is hugely enjoyable as the villainous patriarch, and he too is prone to getting his top off. Iggy Pop has a lot to answer for. Sexton’s Sloane starts off amusingly sloshed, but the characterisation is not without vulnerabilities and depths.
The absolute pinnacle of the show is the title track, which brings the first act to a stunning climax. Staged and sung to perfection, this is quintessential Steinman, big and brash, and heartfelt and overblown, and just sensational.
The dialogue is melodramatic and is declaimed in a heightened style. It could do with more laughs, but Steinman’s anthemic tunes and the gothic poetry of his lyrics prove irresistible and more than compensate for the shortcomings of the script. It’s rousing stuff and the cast sing their heads off, with energy that’s more infectious than a covid variant. Steinman was a genius as a songwriter and this searing, soaring show reminds us unequivocally of that.