Somewhere in a little cave in West Virginia — or perhaps at the University of Texas, stalking Jenna Bush — a little bat boy is crying. Not because three Los Angeles writers decided to turn his life story into a rock musical, in the process transforming the 2-foot, 19-pound terror into a tall, pointy-eared, love-crazy British gentleman. Nay, his are tears of joy because “Bat Boy: The Musical!” is such a bloody good time at the theater.
This wickedly dark, campy comedy belongs to the increasingly popular subgenre: mock-musical, which includes the subversive Broadway hit “Urinetown” and films like “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” and Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You.” Among that company, Bat Boy is neither the most satiric nor the most hilarious. But directed by Shilarna Stokes ’94, the Dramat mainstage production is more fun than a barrel of batmonkeys and as mischievous as anything that’s graced a Yale stage this year.
Take, for instance, Bat Boy’s soprano descant over his adoptive mother’s solo or his spontaneous — and incongruous — tap dance in the middle of his own song. Or take the team of four superfluous dancers adding just more than enough style to each number. Or Thomas Hobson ’04 and Elliot Greenberger ’05 in busty and convincing drag outfits. One can’t fault Bat Boy for taking itself too seriously.
Not that the play was ever in danger of that. Inspired by the series of tabloid articles published in the Weekly World News, the musical opens with Bat Boy’s capture and unofficial adoption by the Parker family — Mr. and Mrs. and their teenage daughter Shelley — of Hope Falls, W.V. It turns out that the incoherent half-bat-half-human is an even more apt pupil than Eliza Doolittle, and Bat Boy (Christopher Grobe ’05) soon adopts English, sophistication and affect, thanks to his BBC language tapes. The show borrows from — and parodies — such musicals as “Tommy,” “Into the Woods” and “The Lion King,” as the plot skips and hiccups Bat Boy into love with the promiscuous Shelley (Lauren Worsham ’05), and later, into confrontations with the entire population of hickville. And — holy bats! — look who turns out to be the creature’s mom.
If the music and the narrative seem a little schizophrenic, it is because the production moves at breakneck speed — or at least with breakneck energy. The songs are largely forgettable tunes, but they are superbly choreographed by Ann Robideaux for full comedic effect and seem to reach their tableaux quicker than a local can say “okey dokey.” In fact, the blocking moves so fluidly that every gesture, every step, must have been precisely choreographed, down to some astonishingly fast costume changes. (Many of the actors are double- or triple-cast as principals and townspeople.)
Each personality delights in its own way. Katie Marie Zouhary ’03, as Mrs. Parker, is a master of the comedic hesitation. Miller’s dopey “evil scientist” recalls the best performances of Eugene Levy. Grobe’s sweet voice emanating from his detestable figure surprises with its Mandy Patinkin-esque timbre. The ensemble members each find their 15 seconds, notably as the effeminate Reverend Hightower (Aaron Lambert ’06) and — in a surreal “Lion King”-meets-“Cabaret” sequence — Hobson as an impish god of the forest.
Easily the biggest-budgeted student production this year, “Bat Boy” also impresses with its, well, professional design. Scenic designer David Korins, lighting designer Herrick Goldman, and costume designer Theresa Squire were brought in to create magical visuals on stage. From the frame of the cave proscenium and trees with exaggerated texture to a slanted purple platform for the Parker’s living room, the artistic design alone is worth seeing.
But why, oh why, didn’t the Dramat splurge and hire a professional sound designer as well? The microphones were almost never on at the right times during Wednesday night’s opening performance. In addition, the microphones distort some high soprano notes and loud bits of dialogue and under-amplify other words and lyrics. Straining to hear unmiked actors over the five-man band makes too many moments laughable for the wrong reasons. It’s inexcusable that the sound design be the element that reminds the audience that this is a student production.
What does reach the audience delights with all of the irony and wit promised by the show’s buzz around campus. There isn’t much meat to “Bat Boy: The Musical!” since almost none of the characters rise above stereotypes, but then again, it’s blood — not meat — that everyone’s after.