Boy, I needed me some theatre tonight. It’s felt like too long since my last show, way too long…and yes, okay, maybe I was feeling a little grumpy after discovering that I didn’t make the first round of jurying for the Ninjamatics 2012 weblog awards that I’d previously been nominated for, and me and my shitty blog won’t be winning a damned thing (although I should note that another local website, preview-kings Production Ottawa, made it through to the final round, so good on them! Also, I’m bitterly jealous). So yeah, I needed me a pick-me-up on the quick time, and my recent impulse-purchase of the complete series of THE MUNSTERS was only getting half the job done.
For the other half, only a road trip to the nearest theatre (aka The Gladstone) would do the trick, for the opening night of their latest, Black Sheep Theatre’s production of BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL from director Dave Dawson. Based on the story and book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, itself inspired by the now-legendary article in the only reliable news source planet Earth has ever known, the Weekly World News. If you’re one of those snobs who doens’t read the papers because you’re too busy downloading biased liberal newsfeeds directly into your I-ports or something, here’s the basic gist of the story:
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking…that shit is TOO AMAZING to be true. But you’d be wrong (as usual), because I just saw the whole thing played out in grand fashion on the Gladstone stage and am now a witness to the tragic, but seriously fun tale of the Bat Boy. Starting off with an ill-planned spelunking trip into a mysterious cave in Hope Falls, where a trio of teenagers discover our hero, a snarling, pointy eared mutant (or Zach Counsil, as we call him in polite circles here in Ottawa) living like an animal. After biting sister Ruthie, brothers Ron and and Rick (Mathieu Charlebois and Ben Montgomery) capture the Bat Boy and drag him back to town, where Sheriff Reynolds (smooth Tim Oberholzer, sporting an even-more splendid moustache than in Chamber Theatre’s TONGUE AND GROOVE, if such a thing is possible) bags him, binds him, and drags him off to the home of local veterinarian Thomas Parker (Kris Joseph, back from the wilds of Alberta, hooray). The hope is that the doc will quietly put the Bat Boy down, but his wife Meredith (Rebekah Shirey) and daughter Shelley (Allesia Lupiano) put up a helluva fuss. Instead, the Bat Boy is renamed Edgar, taught English and proper BBC manners, and turned into an upstanding member of society. All would end well right there except for Ruthie Parker’s vengeance-obsessed Mama (David Benedict Brown, cross dressing with the best of them), a nervous Mayor (Hillary Carroll), and a visiting revival reverend (Rebecca Perry), not to mention a few skeletons in a few choice closets.
BAT BOY is a giddily over-the-top romp of a musical, and having already directed it a few times before, Dawson knows how to get what he wants out of his cast by now (some of the gang onstage are veterans of his previous productions of this show at Winnipeg Fringe and Carleton U. in years past). The songs and music by Laurence O’Keefe are pretty goddam memorable as evidenced by the fact that I’m still singing them to myself, now, as I write this. And the cast is a very good one…Zach Counsil, an Ottawa mainstay, pushes himself to new highs as our misshapen hero, thirsting for knowledge and acceptance as much as blood (which he also really, really wants). Likewise, hometown fave Kris Joseph is very happily welcomed back to our stages as conflicted Doctor Parker…not to mention the God Pan, in what will definitely be a shoo-in for my fav’rit scene of onstage mass-bestiality for this year, barring some seriously unforeseen programming from Ottawa Little Theatre.
The out-of-towners in this show impress like Hell, as well…Rebekah Shirley as Meredith Parker is top-notch, and Alessia Lupiano as daughter Shelley is a positive wonder. Hilary Carroll, too, is terrific as redneck mayor Maggie, and does mighty fine scene-stealing later on as a turtle…trust me, or see it yourself, which would be way better for you. The set, such as it is, is fairly low-budget, which might have been the point with a show like this. Mind you, that’s a fairly convenient point if you’re the company producing the show, and even I had to wince a time or two at just how quickly knocked off some of the onstage props looked (stitching straight doesn’t cost extra, right? And that cage Zach was suspended in looks like it was gonna come down any second).
But this is a musical, and as such, it all comes down TO the music. And the gang have pipes to spare, special shoutouts to Kris Joesph, Rebecca Perry and Alessia Lupiano. And especially to the ‘Cave Band’, the slightly-offstage live band providing all the music…Dave Dawson likes the music in his musicals as live as his vocals, and it works a treat here. Conductor Steve Lafond and his gang did REAL good. The music was solid, and the gang onstage rose to the challenge. This show, from the start a quick replacement for the originally planned DOCTOR HORRIBLE show (You better give us a good sequel, Whedon..!), did exactly what it was supposed to do, and made me forget all about that shit while I was watching it. BAT BOY is good fun, and sweet wounded Jesus, that’s really all you need to know. Catch it while you can…and remember, merchandise IS available, so bring some extra cash Just saying. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid (aka the Visitor ) and Winston (Oh yeah…he’s back!)
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