Bat out of hell

Bat Boy: The Musical swoops into Dare 2 Defy Productions this week

Photo: Castmembers of Bat Boy rehearsing (l-r) Lindsay Sherman, Jessi Stark, Samantha Creech (front), Brett Norgaard (back), Bobby Mitchum

By Jill Summerville

In 1992, the satirical tabloid, US Weekly, ran its first story about Bat Boy, a half-man, half-bat found in a cave in West Virginia. In 1997, Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming, and Laurence O’ Keefe created Bat Boy: The Musical, a clever, campy, compassionate exploration of the mythic man-rodent, so popular US Weekly covered him as recently as 2003. According to Scott Miller’s article, “Inside Bat Boy: The Musical, it was the horror and humor in the Bat Boy’s cover photo on US Weekly that made O’ Keefe agree to the project. O’ Keefe said, “That’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. I’ll do it.” Bat Boy swoops into Dayton’s Dare 2 Defy Productions this fall. Dare 2 Defy is the perfect home for him, as the company brings edgy productions to new audiences.

Dayton is a city that embraces Halloween. The Stoddard Avenue Pumpkin Glow, Ye Olde Yellow Cabaret, and Rhinegeists and Poltergeists, are just a few quirky local traditions. Most famously, Foy’s has been a popular stop for Halloween horror since the 1970s. After this year, Bat Boy: The Musical may well take its place amongst these other beloved Halloween traditions. This musical is an homage to the fascination with the freakish that attracts us to Halloween, but it’s also an examination of the challenges faced by an outsider when he suddenly has no darkness in which to hide. Dare 2 Defy’s Artistic Director, Rebecca Norgaard, says a play about accepting the unique gifts and challenges that each person brings to his or her place in the world is always timely, because “the greatest thing about people is what we do and [what we] can be together.”

Unlike The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which glorifies so-called “freaks” by making them irresistibly glamorous, Bat Boy: The Musical subtly stirs audiences’ sympathy for its hero by acknowledging the ridiculous reason for his stigmatization—his physiognomy—so earnestly that, while he can be laughed at, he cannot justifiably be mocked. As director Matthew Smith says, “At the center, the story speaks to the animal inside all of us[…] a primitive, emotional beast hungry for power, for food, for love, [and] for self-control.” We have all felt like The Bat Boy in our own lives, and perhaps we have all unjustly ostracized someone as close as the actors sharing a small space with us. After all, the world and the theatre are not so different. Both are spaces that require a fluid mastery of the art of collaboration as a condition of their inhabitants’ success. With collaboration comes intimacy, and with intimacy comes the potential for profound vulnerability. This production captures both the risk and the romanticism inherent in that emotional state. According to Norgaard, one of the most engrossing moments in this show is when, “Garrett Young (Bat Boy) and Samantha Faye Creech (Shelley Parker) have a moment of pure joy and pure devastation.” In fact, they are close enough to share each of those moments with all of the people in front of them, regardless of whether they are quite ready for it.

Despite the seriousness of its themes, Bat Boy: The Musical is a joy. The songs are reminiscent of 1960s doo wop, and rhythm and blues gospel, with all of the soulful enthusiasm in each of those genres. The Bat Boy is a mid-twentieth-century horror movie monster in contemporary times, and his journey has all the ghoulish schadenfreude of those films. The humor is satirical yet sincere, and the songs allow audiences to revel in the actors’ technical virtuosity. In fact, the show is not unlike Halloween itself. It’s an event that allows its participants to acknowledge the darkness inside themselves, the urges and fears they cannot control. Yet, however temporarily, those urges can be shared instead of becoming a source of shame for the individuals who bear them. For one night, the audiences for this show can collectively contest the idea that even the most frightful parts of themselves are not worthy of love, and they can take pleasure in doing it. Artistic Director Rebecca Norgaard says it best: “[This production is] a horror movie with great actors, beautiful music, and a social message. It’s all you could want in a musical.

There are four showings of Bat Boy: The Musical: Friday, Oct. 27 at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 28 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Friday, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $16.50 to $25. Tickets are available at the door. However, due to the strong possibility of the show selling out, it’s advisable to purchase a ticket early at www.ticketcenterstage.com/ or call the box office at 937.228.3630.

 

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Jill Summerville

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