Bat Boy: The Musical ends like a Shakespearean tragedy, with bodies dropping all over the stage, while horrified onlookers shudder and weep. It's just that in Shakespeare, the bodies don't rise up again to sing the finale.
The character of Bat Boy is based on a recurring character in the Weekly World News, a supermarket tabloid I knew nothing about until I googled it. On the web, I learned that Bat Boy was about two feet high when he was found in a cave in West Virginia. He endorsed Al Gore for president, giving the then-VP a friendly bite on the neck. Later, he almost died after being sprayed by a pesticide truck. In fact, I think he's still in danger.
In the musical, a human-sized Bat Boy is found by some teenagers, wounding one of them before he's captured and taken to the local vet for euthanasia. But the vet's wife and daughter adopt and tame him. There's a delightful scene reminiscent of My Fair Lady when the women teach him to speak and everyone sings "Show You a Thing or Two." As time passes, Bat Boy becomes not only more human, but downright elegant, speaking BBC English and cocking his little finger when he drinks his tea. Nonetheless, the bitten teenager lingers at the edge of death, and the townsfolk still want to lynch him. Displaying far better taste than his print alter ego -- WWW's Bat Boy pines for President Bush's daughter, Jenna -- our Bat Boy falls for Shelley, the vet's daughter. A preacher prays over him; he sings "A Home for You"; the townspeople waver in their hatred. For a while, it seems as if all may be well. But Bat Boy is betrayed by his animal nature, as well as by the vicious, tortured vet, who has an evil secret of his own.
The show references all kinds of themes, featuring bits and pieces from pop culture and archetype alike. The lynch mob crossing the stage with torches is reminiscent of Frankenstein and other 1930s horror movies. Shelley and Bat Boy flee to the realm of the goat-footed Pan, god of lust, which feels suspiciously hellish. We tend to be fascinated by the boundary between human and animal, and our culture has a plethora of stories about half-human, half-animal creatures. The child reared by beasts is a staple of myth and fairy tale, and contemporary psychology explores the thoughts and language abilities of children raised without human contact. (Douglas Keith Candland's Feral Children and Clever Animals is one of the best books on the topic.) The misunderstood creature, the lonely soul standing at the edge of society, yearning for entry and acceptance, stands as a metaphor for outsiders of all kinds -- the artist, the homosexual, the exile. And, of course, there's that ultimate outsider, our psychopomp to the land of the dead, the vampire. I hope I wasn't the only fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the Bat Boy audience; at any rate, I clearly remember Buffy offering the ensouled vampire Angel her own life-saving blood, just as Shelley offers Bat Boy hers. Ultimately, it makes sense when we're exhorted by the entire cast to cherish the Bat Boy within ourselves.
Despite these allusions, there's nothing at all serious about Bat Boy: The Musical. Yes, it does have a certain amount of heart. You empathize with Bat Boy. You want him to be happy with his Shelley. But his misfortunes are just so damned amusing. The script and story, by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, are clever, knowing and inventive, and Laurence O'Keefe's songs are bouncy and melodic. Everything moves along helter-skelter, fast and funny.
The cast, directed by Steven Tangedal, is hilarious, too. Nicholas Sugar has spent far too little time on a stage in the last year or so, and it's a pleasure to see him back. As Bat Boy, he's the backbone of this production, squeaking and gibbering, hanging upside down in his cage or skittering across the vet's living room. He makes the character alternately funny, touching, absurd -- even effete -- and scary. Chris Whyde carries much of the action as Dr. Thomas Parker, the treacherous vet. At first, Parker seems almost realistic, a straight character amid a bunch of prancing caricatures, but he soon devolves into the quintessential stage villain, doing evil to assuage his inner torment. Whyde has a powerful, pleasing voice. Alex Ryer is warm and solid as Meredith Parker, and Jenny Hecht charms as confused daughter Shelley. Jim Miller is a jocular sheriff, and Melissa Deni an amazingly self-possessed Grandma. All playing multiple roles, Todd Peckham, Janelle Kato, Scott McLean and Shelley McMillion Burl (whom I particularly liked as the preacher) bring a wealth of lunacy to the evening. Melissa McCarl is particularly magical.
This is as much fun as I've had in a theater in ages.
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