Back in the early seventies, a young songwriter was attempting to find a home for a slew of ridiculously overblown songs that featured the perfect American storm of sex, motorcycles and rock n roll. This heady stew of teen angst and raging hormones, delivered with Wagnerian excess, would prove to be a very hard sell. The songwriter was Jim Steinman and he'd already been working in musical theatre for some years when he crossed paths with a budding actor/singer, with the voice to match his imposing frame, who went by the unusual moniker of Meat Loaf. The larger than life singer possessed the vocal power, range, and bravado to bring Steinman's songs to life and they began the search for a record label which would prove very difficult. In other words, they were turned down flat by pretty much every label executive in America until the Cleveland label (an Epic offshoot) took a chance and the slow build to rock legend status commenced.
If ever there was a songwriter whose music was perfect for the theatrical experience it has to be Jim Steinman. The best Steinman songs are equal parts bombast and melodrama. A Steinman song paints a picture, usually contains a reference to sex, Rock n Roll or both and goes on for an age. These are all good things. 'Bat out Of Hell' the musical incorporates the songs from a trio of Bat albums with a storyline influenced by the mythical tale of Peter Pan. This Steinman obsession with the characters of J.M. Barrie dates back to a musical entitled 'Neverland' which was staged in Washington D.C. in 1977 and featured Bat songs including the title track and 'Heaven Can Wait'. For the new musical the producers were clearly thinking big for a London debut (Steinman only does big) so the musical is being staged at London's largest theatre The London Coliseum, usually home to the more highbrow strains of opera and ballet, following an opening run in Manchester. It may have taken forty years for things to finally come together but was it worth the wait? Absolutely.
Strat leads a tribe 'The Lost' who inhabit the dark depths of a futuristic Manhattan now known as Obsidian. The Lost (complete with Mad Max / Duran Duran 'Wild Boys' dress code) hide in the shadows destined to never grow old, frozen at eighteen. Obsidian is effectively ruled by the Falco Corporation. Falco and his wife Sloane (who has taken to drowning her sorrows while reminiscing about better times) have a daughter Raven (Christina Bennington), with an eighteenth birthday looming, who is in love with Strat. This is obviously pretty basic, tried and trusted formulaic storytelling. It matters, not a jot as the cast are all totally up for the job and give it their all, the songs are wonderful and the music rocks.
Strat (West End newcomer Benjamin Purkiss, terrific throughout) opens proceedings with the always totally bonkers and ridiculous 'Love and Death and an American Guitar' originally from the Jim Steinman solo album 'Bad for Good' and away we go. The staging looks fantastic, I'm really a newcomer to this sort of thing but the use of confetti and pyro screams rock concert (KISS would be proud). Having a camera person on stage following the actors to show what's going on in Falco towers is especially effective. The band/orchestra rock hard when required as the drums pound and guitars crunch while they are obviously equally adept at the orchestral side of things. Musically this is a terrific blend of both genres and works really well. Steinman mixes a couple of new songs into proceedings, which are a little too Andrew Lloyd Webber for my personal taste, but I'm at the theatre so I'm happy to embrace this.
All the standout Steinman classics are present and the producers have done a great job of fitting in as many of these gems as possible into the production. A very clever staging trick means Raven's birthday party is able to merge into 'Paradise by the Dashboard Light' allowing Rob Fowler (Falco) and Sharon Sexton (Sloane) to get all hot and heavy in the backseat (complete with baseball announcer). Fowler and Sexton are both terrific and nearly steal the show. 'Bat out Of Hell' concludes the first act with revving guitars, an exploding motorbike, and enough confetti to keep the stage hands very busy for the length of the intermission. It was also terrific to hear 'Making Love Out Of Nothing at All' which Steinman penned for Air Supply included.
Amongst all the bombast the cast injects some nice light moments of humour. We learnt that it can be quite difficult to "Offer your throat" on a 'Hot Summer Night' to a wolf or anyone else, but they get there in the end. It is also worth noting that being in the orchestra pit could be hazardous to your health if a car were to fall on you. While 'I'd Do Anything for Love' features an affectionate nod to Mr. Loaf which went down very well with a very appreciative audience.
The London run of 'Bat out Of Hell' has been extended twice but must end August 22nd, 2017 but will open in Toronto, Canada late in 2017. So if you live in the UK and you’re on the fence about the show take a chance now before it’s too late. If you're lucky enough to live in Toronto and have any interest in Steinman, or classic rock in general, then you should grab a ticket at the earliest oppertunity.