“Bat Out of Hell: The Musical” takes songwriter Jim Steinman’s operatic lyrics to heart. The sirens are constantly screaming, and the fires are endlessly howling. The strobe lights nearly gave me a seizure.
This theatrical assault on the senses, which opened its monthlong run off-Broadway Thursday, is just plain overwhelming, even if the epic tunes that made Meat Loaf famous in the ’70s are thrilling to hear again.
The story is a radioactive “Romeo and Juliet,” set in a dystopian city whose teens are stuck in their current age forever. Sounds great! The city destroyed, the kids, who call themselves the Lost, are left wandering the subway tunnels. (They barrel through this exposition like a bat out of, well, yeah.)
One rebel, 18-year-old Strat (Andrew Polec), falls in love with an un-Lost rich girl, Raven (Christina Bennington), who’s safely trapped, like a rock ’n’ roll Rapunzel, high up in a tower by her powerful parents. Strat sneaks Raven down, whisking her off to a fire-and-brimstone world where no man wears a shirt and love songs last 11 minutes.
If you’ve come to hear Meat Loaf classics — “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” — sung loudly with gusto, you won’t be disappointed. But there are way too many of them, such as all 8 minutes and 20 seconds of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” including the baseball-announcer part (performed by someone onstage).
Still, the singing gets the blood pumping. Polec, the Meat Loaf stand-in, has a rich, booming voice for someone so skinny. The biggest headbanging musical moment comes late in the show, when Raven’s parents (a very funny Lena Hall and Bradley Dean) belt “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” That said, the wispy, wide-eyed acting is straight out of a New Age cult.
The show is more cohesive than your average jukebox musical because Steinman originally intended that many of his songs tell a story like this one. But Strat’s tale isn’t as gripping as the one in “Tommy” or “American Idiot.”
Although the show runs nearly three hours, not much happens — and the staging is dreadful. Director Jay Scheib crowds his production with cameras and massive set pieces, turning the show into a smoky, big-budget music video.
“Bat Out of Hell” is at its best when it’s a concert.
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