From time to time, PositiveLite.com explores the cultural references that shape our lives. Some - many - of those lives - have been hard, some less so. We acknowledge privilege where it clearly is a factor in the story being told. This is one such post.
Forty years ago this weekend - over half a lifetime - an album was released that had huge impact. Many of its songs became iconic, soaring anthems that were operatic in scope, bat-shit crazy over-the-top marathons penned by mad genius Jim Steinman and delivered by Meat Loaf. It is one of the best-selling albums of all time, having sold over 43 million copies worldwide.
An oddity in its writing was that the titles of songs always came first to Jim Steinman. “Jim would always come up with these great titles and then he would write a song that would try to justify the greatness of the title" said one source. And now we have a musical that tries, and mostly succeeds, in doing that too.
First let me say the attempt at greatness is not an unqualified success. The story line, a hodge-podge of Peter Pan, Romeo and Juliet and every other love story you have ever seen, is a bit creaky. But oh my, the staging! This is one spectacular show. I’m not sure that in fifty years of experiencing live theatre, I’ve ever seen anything quite like this. Because the producers have gone hell bent for leather in creating something big, bold and epic in every sense.
It’s also loud. Very, very loud.
The show, now in previews at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre after an acclaimed run in London’s west end, is a crowd pleaser. It starts, after an opening monologue, with a Harley in full throttle, a consistent theme throughout the show, and doesn’t let up.
True, it’s necessary to dismiss the plot as a piece of fluff – a contrivance set in a post-apocalyptic place called Obsidian where the largely oppressed youngsters are perennially stuck at age 18. And of course where there are good guys and bad guys and where the youngest and prettiest oppressed good guy falls in love with the 18 year old daughter of the rich bad guys. We have been here before. But not like this.
The producers have chosen to take the crazed intensity of the original songs and transfer that to the world of present day musical theater, which has consistently demanded big staging, big production numbers, big special effects. They deliver in spades. This show is in fact a miracle of modern staging with scenery seamlessly transforming into one gigantic set after another. A live on stage cam is used in many key moments; meanwhile motor cycles explode, fire pots belch and a Chevy is pushed into the orchestra pit. There are in facts lots of grand spectacle moments here but what impresses most are the performances. The cast is beyond energetic, and the musical numbers, including a surprising number of quite excellent power ballads, are belted out convincingly. The cast is in fact spectacularly good, vocally and otherwise, and it is excellence of the cast that makes this show, glitz be damned.
We also see a true star in the making. Andrew Polec (seen above) who plays the lead characters Strat shirtless through much of the show, delivers those classic Meatloaf songs with gripping intensity. Whether with menace (he’s good at that) or with love-struck passion, his performance is truly a sight to behold. He will go far.
The audience loved it, of course.
Bat out of Hell, the Musical plays in Toronto until December 24. Four out of five stars.