The story of Bat Boy originated in the now-defunct Weekly World News tabloid, which announced that a scientist had found a creature that was half boy, half bat in a West Virginia cave. Many adventures followed: Bat Boy was captured for science experiments and escaped, captured by the FBI and escaped, captured by the FBI again. He led U.S. troops to Saddam Hussein's hideout. He also stole an automobile, was spotted on the roof of a New York City subway car, developed a crush on Jenna Bush, supported both Al Gore and Barack Obama in their presidential races, and considered going into politics himself. Oh, and he piloted the space shuttle and was called on by the Obama administration to help solve the fiscal crisis.
Bat Boy: The Musical, written by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, with songs by Laurence O'Keefe, is a campy, comic horror show that has all the insane logic of a tabloid serial, but with an undertone — a very tenuous undertone — of seriousness. In the show, Bat Boy is discovered by a group of cave-exploring teenagers. Frightened, he bites one of them, Ruthie. The teens capture him and take him to the home of the local vet, Dr. Parker, to be euthanized. But Parker's wife takes pity on him, he becomes a member of the household, and he and the Parkers' daughter, Shelley, fall in love. Meanwhile, a groundswell of rage grows among the townspeople, spurred by Ruthie's lingering sickness and their belief that it's the carnivorous Bat Boy who's causing their cattle to die. When a traveling preacher arrives in town, Bat Boy convinces Shelley and her mother, Meredith, to let him attend the revival, despite the danger of going out in public, and once there, he asks for healing. Alas, Dr. Parker has turned evil and murderous. He leads the townsfolk on a rampage, Bat Boy flees, and pretty soon he's back in his cave, only this time he has the lovely Meredith with him. Revelation follows lunatic revelation, and finally...well, the story doesn't end happily — though it does end with the song "Hold Me, Bat Boy," a plea for inclusion, tolerance and love.
That plea holds particular resonance for producer Deb Flomberg, director Colin Roybal and their actors in this Equinox Theatre production. Adam Perkes, who was originally cast as Bat Boy for the production and who appeared in the role on opening weekend mid-February, was found dead in a hotel room a few days later. He suffered from depression and, according to Flomberg, had often felt isolated, rejected and lonely. It looked as if the run would have to be canceled. But then Flomberg contacted Nick Sugar, a highly respected artist who had played Bat Boy in the past and also directed the musical. Hearing of the company's plight, Sugar agreed to take over the role. After a single intense week of rehearsal, Bat Boy reopened.
Presented by Equinox Theatre through March 16, Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, 720-984-0781, www.equinoxtheatredenver.com.
Although he had to learn blocking and choreography quickly and work on the songs with an unfamiliar orchestra, Sugar's performance is one of the strongest elements of this show. He brings a certain humor and lightness to the role: His Bat Boy is unpredictable, sometimes playful and sometimes touching, veering between animalistic and human. There's excellent support from Emily Macomber's Meredith, with her fine voice and strong presence. James O'Hagan-Murphy — fresh from his triumph in the one-man show RFK and still with just a trace of a Boston accent — clearly relishes every moment of Dr. Parker's over-the-top villainy; Rachelle Wood is a charming Shelley.
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The rest of the cast is a little ragged, with a lot of attempts at humor that really aren't very funny; the acoustics at the Bug don't do the voices any favors, either. Still, this Bat Boy is significant as both eulogy and celebration, and also for revealing the power and compassion of our theater community.