Note: This review is for the UK 2022 tour.
Bat Out of Hell is a rock musical with with music, lyrics and book by Jim Steinman. Steinman was a prolific songwriter, with hits including Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, Celine Dion’s It’s All Coming Back To Me Now and Air Supply’s Making Love Out of Nothing at All, but is probably best known as the composer of the songs for Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell album trilogy. These are predominantly the musical numbers that feature throughout the show.
Set in the dystopian city of Obsidian (formerly known as Manhattan), Bat Out of Hell is a loose retelling of Peter Pan (although there is clearly a Romeo and Juliet theme going on too). We follow the story of Strat – the leader of ‘The Lost – and his friends who were frozen in time after being trapped in a tunnel filled with poison and are destined to remain eighteen forever. Strat falls in love with Raven, the teenage daughter of Obsidan’s tyrannical leader, Falco.
Confused? So was I… and yet somehow it worked. Similarly to We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia with a touch of Rocky Horror thrown in for good measure, the show has been essentially reverse engineered to make the storyline fit the songs. The plot doesn’t entirely make sense and at times is completely bizarre – indeed I was lost for part of the first half – but it is absolutely the songs, intense ear-blowing sound and the sheer power of the performances that really make it.
With a soundtrack including songs like I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), Paradise By The Dashboard Light, Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, Dead Ringer For Love and Bat Out of Hell, we are introduced to the characters as we follow the forbidden love story of Strat and Raven.
The show boasts a plethora of strong and incredibly talented performers, and it is the pairings of the main cast members that add another level to the show.
Strat (Glenn Adamson) and Raven (Martha Kirby) were the perfect pairing, both with incredibly powerful vocals that complimented each other. Strat and Raven appear as opposites – a wild, physically expressive, wide-eyed boy and a spoiled rich girl with overprotective parents, but it is a testament to Kirby’s performance that demonstrates far more strength in Raven’s character that initially appears. While they shone in the impressively massive ensemble songs, it was their movement around the stage and ballad performances that really demonstrated their abilities as performers.
Similarly, Raven’s parents – the overbearing and menacing Falco (Rob Fowler) and his long suffering and weary wife Sloane (Sharon Sexton) were superb. Both were originators of the roles and their chemistry and charisma on stage were electric, with their performance of the full eight minute Paradise By The Dashboard Light being one of the highlights. These two also provided much of the comic relief during the show – at one point writhing around a car in nothing but their underwear.
The Lost members Zahara (Joelle Moses) and Jagwire (James Chisholm) provided a sub-plot of unrequited love. They didn’t necessarily have the same level of chemistry, but with amazing vocals I found it difficult to take my eyes off them when they were on stage.
And then there is Tink (Killian Thomas), Strat’s best friend who is in love with him. Tink was frozen at a younger age than the others and longs to be taken seriously. Sporting a Corey Feldman in the Lost Boys look, Tink provides much of the tension within the show, betraying his friends out of jealousy and resentment of Strat’s feelings for Raven. Beautifully done, with an equally beautiful voice.
For the rest of the cast, there are some moments to individually shine and they brought an incredible energy and enthusiasm to the larger song performances, despite the fact that the choreography is severely lacking.
The set represents the dystopian setting, with LED lights, concrete, tyres and the use of a video screen, with the only changes on set being the props. While the fact that the set was static, added to this was an excess of explosions for the eyes and ears, including strobes, pyrotechnics, confetti cannons and glitter.
The sign of a good show, for me at least, is that you leave the theatre feeling like you’ve just had a great time, and really I did. Judging from the standing ovation from the Birmingham audience, they did too! Is Bat Out of Hell going to be known for its narrative? Absolutely not. Would I see it again? In a heartbeat – it’s a brilliant production that had me rocking in my seat. If you love big, powerful performances of some of the greatest rock songs in history, this is the show for you.
Bat Out of Hell is on stage at the Alexandra Theatre until Sat 15th January 2022. Purchase your tickets here.
Photo credits: Chris Davis Studio