Jim Steinman’s rock n’ roll musical Bat out of Hell returns to Toronto in time for Halloween
There’s a lot to unpack in Bat out of Hell, but this show prefers to throw the whole suitcase at you. Except, the suitcase is an exploding car engine. Based on the songs of Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf, the show is back at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre as part of its current North American tour.
We follow a gang of forever-teenaged mutants called The Lost, led by Strat (Andrew Polec) in a rebellion against the insidious Falco Corporation, until he falls in love with their daughter, Raven (Emily Schultheis). The story and themes are one part Romeo and Juliet and one part Peter Pan, wrapped in Streets of Fire. At least, I think so. Narrative exists mostly to string together the big, loud, joyful and face-melting rock n’ roll jams.
I wanted to get to know this world of weirdos better, so I do wish the plot didn’t feel so stripped-down and incidental. Leading lovers Polec and Schultheis radiate youthful rebellious charm, but their love story needed a greater emotional pull for the amount of showtime dedicated to them embracing and singing in each other’s faces.
Music is the main attraction of this show, and the performance we’re treated to is an endurance run, to say the least. Meat Loaf’s belting is no picnic to get right, and they do it on top of Emma Portner’s sharp choreography. All this while navigating Jon Bausor’s textured, eye-popping stage design, which is drenched in neon and in constant motion.
Sadly, we see little of the real stars of the show, the musicians, expertly directed by Ryan Cantwell. Though, we do get a bit of slapstick where band members climb from the pit onto the stage in what is one of the funniest visual gags I’ve seen in live theatre.
Though the cast rise to the occasion when it comes to singing, most of the numbers felt more like recital than story. Meat Loaf pours an enormous amount of feeling into his songs, and while the ensemble nailed the technical aspects, it needed more heart. Showstoppers like “Bat out of Hell” and “I Would do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” were what the cast saved their energy for, but the nature of this show calls for more fervor throughout. The people on stage are very funny with undeniable singing chops, but I was hoping for more of an emotional connection with the performance.
Oddly, Raven’s parents and the show’s antagonists, played by Bradley Dean and Lulu Llyod, seem to be the most fleshed out and sympathetic characters. They’re introduced to us as capitalists who exploit their daughter for fame by televising her everyday activities – which is an extremely subtle reference – but it’s not like this show is about subtext. As the story goes on, we find out that the Falcos secretly yearn for their carefree, youthful days. Their rendition of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” stands out for flashy staging, sharp humour and story impact – if you can muscle through seeing a middle-aged couple getting naughty at their child’s birthday party, anyway.
Although this show is aimed squarely at Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers nostalgic for their days of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, it’s still a fun ride for younger audiences, especially if you were raised on the kind of tunes featured in this show. I wish it had enough oomph to make me forget about my everyday anxieties the way it does for these older generations, but all in all, Bat out of Hell ain’t a bad way to spend a night out.
- Bat out of Hell is playing until November 3, 2018 at Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria Street)
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 pm, with matinees on Wednesdays at 1:30 and 2:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday
- Tickets prices range from $39 – $225
- Tickets are available online, by calling 416-872-1212, or in-person at the box office
- Audience Advisory: Use of theatrical Smoke/Haze and Strobe lighting, Mature themes. Recommended for age 15 and up.
Photo of Andrew Polec and ensemble provided by company.