Review by Tim Garratt
Bat Out of Hell is a rock musical with music, lyrics and a book by Jim Steinman. Most of its songs are taken from the Bat Out of Hell trilogy of albums, released by American rock singer Meat Loaf over a 30-year period, beginning in 1977.
Directed by Jay Scheib, Bat Out of Hell: The Musical had its world premiere in Manchester in 2017, and several international productions (including on London’s West End and off-Broadway) have since followed. Last Friday, a new production of Bat Out of Hell, reworked as an arena show, finally kicked off an Australian tour at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena (originally, it was set to arrive locally pre-COVID.)
A loose retelling of Peter Pan, Bat Out of Hell’s story is set in the post-apocalyptic city of Obsidian (which was once Manhattan). Strat (Glenn Adamson) leads a group of teens known as ‘The Lost’, who (due to their DNA having frozen after an accident) will never age older than 18. The group is locked in conflict with the city’s tyrannical leader, Falco (Rob Fowler), over control of Obsidian. And then Strat and Raven (Kellie Gnauck), Falco’s daughter, meet and fall in love at first sight, but if their forbidden love is to endure, it may come at a high cost.
Unfortunately, in this production of Bat Out of Hell, many of the details described above are difficult to glean from what we see on stage. We get a general sense of a Romeo and Juliet-style tragedy unfolding in a dystopian society, but beyond that, the narrative is challenging to follow throughout. This is an issue the production is unable to be overcome by projecting close-up live footage of interaction between characters onto two large screens upstage.
On top of that, a more lavish production design would have assisted in maximising the impact of Bat Out of Hell in an arena setting. Aside from the screens and some platforms, the stage is surprisingly bare, and this reviewer couldn’t help but wonder what else could have been done to visually evoke the city of Obsidian. For the final scene of the first act, there’s a great marriage of projections and moving lights, making for an electric segue into interval, but more visuals of this calibre would have benefitted overall visual impact of the production. The ensemble cast, meanwhile, is inhibited by pedestrian choreography.
That said, when it comes to the live reproduction of Steinman’s tracks, the news is far more positive. Under the musical direction of Iestyn Griffiths, these songs (some dating back over 45 years) roar to life care of an excellent band, and they sound as good as ever. You can expect the title track, ‘You took the words right out of my mouth’, ‘Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through’ and the 1993 megahit ‘I’d do anything for love (but I won’t do that)’ all to appear in the mix over the show’s two-and-a-half hours, and all are performed with gusto.
And it’s not just the musicians that deserve credit here, but also a stellar cast of performers, who quickly prove they have the powerful vocal chops for the classic cuts. Leading the cast, Adamson and Gnauck never vocally faulter, while Sharon Sexton (playing Sloane, Raven’s mother) is a standout. In fact, essentially any time any cast member has the chance to perform a solo, the results are impressive.
So, if you’re heading to see Bat Out of Hell’s Australian tour expecting strong storytelling and a huge spectacle, it’s unlikely those expectations will be met. But if your interest, first and foremost, lies in experiencing an evening of wonderfully played and performed pop/rock, you’re in for a great treat.
Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical will play shows in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne in the coming weeks. For tickets and more information, visit https://www.batoutofhellmusical.com.