Review: Bat Out of Hell (Mirvish)

Photo from Bat out of HellBat Out of Hell is a fiery jukebox musical playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto

Jim Steinman, Grammy Award winning record producer, songwriter, lyricist and composer, is likely responsible for many of the power rock and pop ballads you heard on the radio throughout the ’90s. He’s also worked closely with such rock megastars as Meat Loaf, in particular their collaboration in creating the albums Bat Out of Hell  and Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, which inspired the stage production. Together, they’ve put together the latest jukebox musical sensation Bat Out of Hell, now making its North American debut on stage at the Ed Mirvish Theatre just in time for Halloween.

On top of each seat before the show begins is a copy of a mock newspaper The Obsidian Times, which serves as a bit of a lead way into the events to unfold on stage to help establish some of the characters.

In Bat Out of Hell, Strat (Andrew Polec), the leader of the wayward tribe of street kids known as The Lost. He falls in love with the young and beautiful Raven (Christina Bennington), daughter of the tyrannical Falco (Rob Fowler), ruler of the town of Obsidian, who is none too happy with The Lost tearing up his streets. Weaving this story together are the sensational and stylized musical numbers you’ve likely grown up listening to, including Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” and Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”.

The elements that blend together to make Bat Out of Hell are a glorious production to behold. The actors do phenomenal work here with both the music and the physically demanding performance. Polec and Bennington are great together as Strat and Raven and their chemistry is palpable. Fowler is fun to watch as the notable villain, despite the various uncomfortable moments where he’s clearly an abusive individual.

Of course, the songs are expertly delivered and certainly received warm responses from the crowd. It’s hard not to get involved when songs you loved years ago get brought to life again on stage.

However, despite the beauty of the execution, I did find that there were a few songs that seemed thrown into place for the sake of it, rather than considering how its inclusion served the plot. For instance, take the quick interlude near the beginning between Zahara (Danielle Steers) and Jagwire (Billy Lewis Jr), where they perform the song “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.” Jagwire declares his love for Zahara, and she gently rejects him in song. I feel I was barely introduced to the two of them as characters and therefore received no indication that they in any way shared a history.

I also found the use of the song “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (a Meat Loaf fan favorite) during the scene of Raven’s birthday–where Falco and his wife Sloane (Sharon Sexton) are so overcome reminiscing on the day Raven was conceived that they feel the need to relive it–was incredibly awkward. Though they do recognize this fact that later on.

I do wish there was more we could have seen with The Lost, despite the few bits and pieces thrown in to give a few of the members a bit of backstory. Often times, other than to serve as back up dancers, I felt like The Lost didn’t serve much of a purpose in the scene.

The staging here is incredible. The sheer size of the set and multiple use of levels to indicate different rooms and scenes, plus the use of camera work giving the overall effect a distinct voyeuristic feel, is superb. I loved the use of pyrotechnics, and even the integration of the pit orchestra into the story.

But despite the sum of its parts, I can’t help but feel that the musical falls short in its writing. Many times the musical numbers feel loosely integrated rather than a solidly crafted focal point of the story — something that I find happens with many a jukebox musical. I also found that the characters weren’t as fleshed out as I’d like them to be, and in a slightly over two-and-a-half hour musical, I wish I had gotten more out of who they are and what they desire.

What I can say about Bat Out of Hell, a show I had highly anticipated, is that it’s a fun show to watch and a great way to relive these retro rock hits. If I do my best to ignore what I honestly feel as a loosely developed plot next to rather underdeveloped characters, I can enjoy the music, the humor, an the spectacle of the show just fine. I can make a joke here about how ‘two out of three ain’t bad’, but I’ll refrain from that.

Details:

  • Bat Out of Hell is playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria Street) until December 24 2017.
  • Performances run Tuesday to Saturday at 8 pm with matinees at 1:30 pm on Wednesdays and 2 pm on weekends.
  • Tickets range from $39 – $225, save money by buying as a group of 10 or more. See website for details.
  • Tickets can be purchased in advance online, in person at the Mirvish head office (284 King Street West, 4th floor), or by phone by calling 416 593 4142. Buying online is advised as tickets are selling fast.
  • Run time is 2 hours 40 minutes with intermission.
  • Audience Advisory: Performance contains theatrical haze and use of strobe lighting, recommended for ages 12+.

Photo of Andrew Polec as Strat and Christina Bennington as Raven by Specular

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